Reexamining the Classification of Viruses as Nonliving Based on their Evolutionary Patterns




Ortiz, Whitney

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Viruses are currently considered nonliving, acellular particles, and, as such, are not categorized under the three domains of life. This classification may be detrimental to viral research by limiting the resources invested and influencing the mentality of those involved. Classifying viruses as nonliving may make it difficult to see the viral influence evident in cellular evolution and regard viruses with the same evolutionary potential as cellular organisms. Existing data is inconclusive about the position of viruses in evolutionary history and the degree of relatedness between viral families. This is due to gaps in viral genome catalogues and the difficulties inherent in studying ancient evolution. Given the incomplete data set and the fact that viruses fall into a gray area when defining life, it may be necessary to examine the characteristics of living organisms and nonliving mechanisms and compare them to viruses. When examining current literature, the classification of viruses as nonliving seems incorrect when compared to their origins, evolutionary patterns, and characteristics. Viruses may then represent an evolved form of cellular life. There is little genome sequencing data, especially regarding ancient viral families, which makes constructing a phylogeny difficult. This data could be crucial to understanding viral origins and their connection to the cellular world. It is important that future research strives to collect a more comprehensive genome catalog for viruses and develop techniques to account for horizontal gene transfer and the rapid mutation found in viruses. Collecting accurate data may make it possible to examine viruses with a better perspective and open our minds when developing viral research.



virus, classification, cellular, phylogeny, sequencing, origin, evolution, plasmid, Honors College


Ortiz, W. E. (2018). Reexamining the classification of viruses as nonliving based on their evolutionary patterns (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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