The place of viruses in biology in light of the metabolism- versus-replication-first debate

Hist Philos Life Sci. 2012;34(3):391-406.


The last decade has seen a revival of old virocentric ideas. These concepts are heterogeneous, extending from proposals that consider viruses functionally as living beings and/or as descendants of viral lineages that preceded cell evolution to other claims that consider viruses and/or some viral families a fourth domain of life. While the debates about whether viruses are alive or not and whether some virus-like replicators preceded the first cells fall under the long-lasting dichotomous view on the nature and origin of life (metabolism- versus replication-first), the claim that some giant viruses form a fourth domain in an organismal tree of life is not consistent with current evidence and can be falsified.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics*
  • Genes, Viral / genetics*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Origin of Life*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Virus Replication / genetics*
  • Viruses / genetics*
  • Viruses / metabolism*