Can viruses read romance novel?

February 9, 2022 § Leave a comment

Good afternoon everyone.

When Covid-19 struck and change the whole world, I began to take an interest on understanding what is virus? I do have some introductionary concept on what is a virus during my secondary school in the biology class. But as years passed by, I completely forget what were taught on that class. Now, at my old age of 32, I regret that I sleep in most of my biology class.

Recently I was wondering in my favorite virtual library – which is Youtube, and I found one very interesting lecture by a science writer named Carl Zimmer at the Royal Institute on the very subject. As it turns out, viruses are actually very new to science. Scientist first understand what viruses is in the 19-th century, not from people but from plant. Specifically, from tobacco plant, so if you’re smoking, beware!

From this sick tobacco leaves, scientist found that what caused the disease was not bacteria of fungi, but something way smaller, that can pass through porcelain filter which bacteria and fungi cannot. They also find that the virus can be crystallized, you can’t crystallize human, plant, or animal, but you can crystallize viruses and they will still be infectious and make you sick. And thus, they are wondering are viruses alive. They come to a view that “viruses are neither dead or alive, they seem to lie on the shadowy borderland, and ready to leap into life”.

So now scientist is scratching their head. We usually understand life as something that are biological, can grow and multiply, organism that breath, eat, move but certainly not crystallize!

As scientist developed a more superior microscope, eventually they can finally see the shape of the viruses. As it turns out, they are found in many shapes and sizes! Some are like snakes, some like soccer ball, and you can also find viruses that looks like a spaceship.

Viruses are different from a cell (they are far smaller). But they do carry in them a genetic molecule, most of them in the form of RNA, a single stranded genetic molecule as opposed to another organism genetic material that are double stranded that are called DNA. So, viruses composed of some outer protein that work as a shell and store some genes inside.

How do viruses multiply?

Viruses don’t lay any egg. They don’t give birth either. So don’t bother trying to search for baby viruses. There isn’t any! What the viruses do is they get into a cell, they passed their genetic material to the cell. Cells are capable of building something, they can multiply. As the cell get infected, it produced protein with the viruses genes (RNA), and when these proteins escaped they become a new viruses. So the viruses needs to be in other organism cell in order to multiply as they themselves don’t have any capacity to multiply on their own. So viruses can multiply, but they need a host cell, the fact that they can multiply, does it mean that its alive?

So what does it means to be alive?

Move? Eat? Metabolize? Reproduction? Intelligence? Reading romantic novels?

According to NASA, the space agency that actively looking life in the outer space, “life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution”. So, judging viruses from this definition, they are alive, they can mutate and developed various strains. But if alive means the ability to shed tears when reading a romantic novel, viruses are actually dead!

Toastmaster Speech Engaging Humor Pathway Level 2 Project 2. Delivered on Wednesday / 09 February 2022.

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