Ten reasons to exclude viruses from the tree of life

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2009 Apr;7(4):306-11. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2108. Epub 2009 Mar 9.


When viruses were discovered, they were accepted as missing links between the inert world and living organisms. However, this idea was soon abandoned as information about their molecular parasitic nature accumulated. Recently, the notion that viruses are living organisms that have had a role in the evolution of some essential features of cells has experienced a renaissance owing to the discovery of unusually large and complex viruses that possess typical cellular genes. Here, we contend that there is strong evidence against the notion that viruses are alive and represent ancient lineages of the tree of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Life*
  • Origin of Life
  • Viruses / classification*
  • Viruses / genetics


  • DNA, Viral