March 14, 2020

"A virus is a peculiar object that is inert and arguably not truly alive outside a host. Only when it invades a cell and hijacks its machinery can the virus begin to replicate."

"Outside, on an inanimate surface, the virus will gradually lose the ability to be an infectious agent. It may dry out, for example. It can degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. A person sneezing on a surface may deposit many thousands of virus particles, and some may remain viable for days. Still, the likelihood of a person who comes into contact with the remnants of that sneeze goes down over time, because most infections are the result of a large viral load.... [T]ypically it takes 'an army of viruses going in' to break through the natural defenses of a human being, which include mucus that lines airways...."

From "Coronavirus can stay infectious for days on surfaces. But it’s still okay to check your mail" (WaPo).

How are you dealing with "fomites" (surfaces that may have the virus)? It's hard to think about everything, but we've been careful bringing mail and packages into the house. We leave the boxes and bags outside and let various objects (including the mail) sit around on a table for a day or so before we touch them again (and we wash our hands after touching them to bring them to the table). Out in the world, I don't touch anything people may have touched, or I regard my own hands/gloves as tainted until I can wash them. I use a pencil to punch the buttons on the parking meter.

But it's good to have more information about how long the virus survives on objects and how likely you are to get infected through fomites. I don't have anything like a scientific grasp on how the virus ceases "to be an infectious agent"? When and how does it "degrade"? It doesn't die, because it isn't alive. Or must I say "arguably not truly alive"? I guess scientists argue about what it means to be "truly alive." Why can't they agree?

The question of what it means to be "truly alive" sounds like something nonscientists wonder about as they engage in a semi-deep assessment of their own life... as depicted in the Broadway musical "Company":



But alone/Is alone/Not alive/Somebody crowd me with love/Somebody force me to care...

87 comments:

Milo Minderbinder said...

Science only progresses when scientists disagree. Let them argue while we wait for the birth rate to increase next December (settled science).

Ryan said...

Okay boomer.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Stepped-up hand washing. Yes - after touching anything that was touched by someone else.
I'm already an OCD hand-washer. Now - it's high gear.
My hands took like elephant knees.

Gilbert Pinfold said...

The nucleic acid (RNA or DNA) constituting the genetic instructions for a virus can be degraded or made non-functional from an informational point of view by ultraviolet light (sunlight has some energy in the UV spectrum). Enveloped viruses (including corona, influenza, and other including my favorite, dengue) have a lipid membrane essential fo infection that can be destroyed by soap and water, drying out (dessication), or by other disinfectants like alcohol or bleach. Non-enveloped viruses, like the common cold, polio, and adenoviruses are harder to “kill”. Think of viruses as a sheet of paper hat can take over a Xerox machine (a cell), and make the Xerox machine make many, many copiees of the paper until the Xerox breaks. Not alive, but information seeking to spread information for it’s own sake.

Fernandistein said...

as depicted in the Broadway musical "Company":

A post on an interesting subject ends with nonsense.

Here's some more:

alive (adj.)
c. 1200, "in life, living," contraction of Old English on life "in living, not dead," from a- (1) + dative of lif "life" (see life). The full form on live was still current 17c. Of abstract things (love, lawsuits, etc.) "in a state of operation, unextinguished," c. 1600. From 1709 as "active, lively;" 1732 as "attentive, open" (usually with to). Used emphatically, especially with man (n.); as in: "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!"

stlcdr said...

Keyword can...

Temujin said...

Well, science aside, I had forgotten about the play "Company" and frankly, did not know that Dean Jones had starred in it, let alone that he could sing. I only knew him from years of middling TV shows and Disney movies.

Many people have many talents.

Temujin said...

Plus it was good to view the video of Dean Jones and not another chart following infections.

America’s Politico said...

I feel that the virus will get me. I may not get through Nov. 2020 election. I voted for Sen. Sanders in the primary. He lost of course. I cannot vote for dinosaur Biden. I will not support Trump. But, if I am gone before Nov. then it will not matter.

Here is my final predication: Biden will win because Trump missed his chance to taking ownership of the virus issue. And, GOP has no woman as VP (Pence is also strange).

Biden's VP will be Amy Klobuchar (moderate). Other options could be Hillary Clinton (God help us), Stacey Abrams (big talker but no accomplishment), Kamala Harris (press likes her), Warren (not a Native American, but got advantages for decades for it).

You heard here first: The next POTUS is Biden. The next VPOTUS is Klobuchar.

If we cannot again before Nov, do think about this.

Cheers!

Wilbur said...

I hope this post goes viral.

Wince said...

When and how does it "degrade"?

I believe when the DNA within the virus protein coat breaks down chemically to the point it can no longer replicate itself even if attached to a host.

CStanley said...

Gilbert beat me to it but I was coming here to post about the lipid outer layer. Corona viruses are in a group called “enveloped” viruses. The envelope is made of lipids that are desiccated by heat and drying, as well as being easily destroyed by detergents and common disinfectants.

The little spikes that we’ve all now seen in illustrations (which give the name, “corona”) are built into this lipid layer and are the tools used by the virus to infect our cells. So when the lipid layer breaks down, so does the viral particle’s ability to cause infection.

Amadeus 48 said...

That old film of Sondheim and the cast recording the original cast album of "Company" is great. That clock on the wall behind Dean Jones is showing 2:30 am, and they had started the previous morning. They have a full pit orchestra in there, and the whole cast for a lot of the session. "Being Alive" is the high point, but Elaine Strich trying to get "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch" as dawn is breaking is painful. The orchestra ended up laying a track and she recorded over it two days later.

It is worth a watch.

Inga said...

As for the way the virus degrades, of course I don’t know either but I did read the soapy substances actually destroys the outer membrane of the virus cell and kills the virus, maybe drying it out also degrades the outer membrane somehow.

Owen said...

I am no scientist but I imagine different pathogens have different half-lives outside their hosts. Look as spores: they can survive years (decades?) under proper conditions. I think they have hard, impermeable shells in their dormant phase? Viral particles will have the inner body of genetic material and an envelope of proteins to bind to host cells and chew through their membranes. If you can disrupt that envelope (or inner body), say with soap (polar molecules that can bind to the envelope and tear it open?) or bleach (again, strong electric charge that rips the envelope?) or with UV (high-energy photons blowing the nucleotides apart?), then it's just inert bio-junk. But it's probabilistic, so the longer you wait, the better your odds.

I hope real scientists will now chime in with better 'splanations. But, yeah, sunlight, fresh air and time are your friends.

mezzrow said...

[ROBERT]
Look, you're a very special virus
Not just overnight
No, you're a very special virus
And not because you're lethal...
Not just because you're lethal
You're just a very special virus...H1N1!

[NC]
Nova Corona!

[ROBERT]
Nova Corona!

(blah, blah)

[NC]
I've got to

[ROBERT]
Right

[NC]
Report to—

[ROBERT]
Go

[NC]
That's not to say...
That if I had my way...
Oh well, I guess, OK

[ROBERT]
What?

[NC]
I'll stay

[ROBERT]
But...oh God!

Balfegor said...

Fresh vegetables are tough. I wash them, sure, but not with soap or alcohol. I guess roasting or stewing them will kill everything though, and the only vegetables I eat raw are carrots.

Fruit with a rind (e.g. dekopon aka "Sumo Citrus", which I have been consuming in enormous quantities) is easier because I can wash that thoroughly since I don't eat the rind.

Owen said...

Just reading up-thread and others have covered the science well IMHO. My 'splanation was a little off because I didn't talk about the envelope as a lipid layer decorated with proteins that bind to the target cell and do their dirty work. Flu viruses are generally known by two of their main surface proteins, H (hemagglutinin) and N (neuraminidase) that bind to target cells and then break into them. I think the hijacking of cellular replication machinery is then done by the nucleotides inside the viral envelope.

A fiendishly efficient machine. "Alive" in the important sense of "wanting" to replicate and disseminate and continue through time and space, eating/incorporating into itself what it can find in its surroundings. It's not wrong IMHO to "personalize" it, treat it as having motives and intentions, because sure as hell it behaves that way.

Inga said...

I’ve got a bottle of Clorox spray and I just spray a bit on my fingertips as I’m opening the envelopes or packages, then immediately wash my hands because the bleach can burn them up pretty quickly. I’ll have to device a less caustic method.

Jupiter said...

"I guess scientists argue about what it means to be "truly alive." Why can't they agree?"

You need criteria. Let's say, that things which are "alive" can ...
Reproduce and eat?

Fire can reproduce and eat.
Viruses don't eat, and can't reproduce, either. But they take over your cells' reproductive function, and make the cells produce viruses instead of more cells.

Scientists can't agree because "alive" is a murky idea.

Inga said...

“Fresh vegetables are tough. I wash them, sure, but not with soap or alcohol. I guess roasting or stewing them will kill everything though, and the only vegetables I eat raw are carrots.”

Any vegetable or fruit in a skin can be washed with hot soapy water, then peeled. As for grapes and more tender produce, I’ve stopped buying them for now and rely on citrus fruits, or apples than can be washed and peeled, or frozen fruit.

Jupiter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iman said...

The question of what it means to be "truly alive" sounds like something nonscientists wonder about as they engage in a semi-deep assessment of their own life... as depicted in the Broadway musical "Company"

—- Mary Katherine Gallagher

Kalli Davis said...

A virus is... arguably not truly alive... until it infects you, turns you into an virus reproducing incubator, kills you... and your family.

Laslo Spatula said...

"...Somebody force me to care..."

Emotionally rape-y, to me.

I am Laslo.

Temujin said...

I am not a scientist. But I do have 6 million years of human evolution behind me. I still bring in my mail and UPS deliveries with my own 2 hands. I do wash them a lot, however. But I always have (years of working in restaurant kitchens).

Eric said...

While Dean Jones starred in Company at it's opening and recorded the Cast Album, he quit very soon after (reportedly because he felt the show was "too nihilistic" and was going through a divorce at the time.) He was replaced by Larry Kert, who unusually for a replacement, was deemed eligible for the Tony nomination.

Fernandistein said...

About 20 years ago some guys created polio virus in the lab, from other chemicals, and when asked if they had created life (NPR interview, IIRC) he said "It's just a chemical."

Meade said...

"Emotionally rape-y, to me."

Emotional rape fantasy.

Phidippus said...

Viruses don't metabolize, i.e., they do not (cannot) on their own use energy and raw materials in the environment to grow or replicate themselves.

If you think of a cell as a metabolizing machine that uses information coded in its DNA to grow and reproduce, the contrast with a virus is pretty clear. The viral DNA (or RNA, depending on the variety) reprograms the cell to make viruses instead of other cells. So the analogy with a computer program that takes control away from the user and uses the machine resources to make copies of itself with the action of viruses makes calling such a program a "virus" very apt. A virus program needs CPU and memory to make copies of itself; a natural virus needs a cellular metabolism and nutrients to make a copies of itself.

I wasn't aware that there was any controversy among biologists over whether viruses are alive or not. If there is, I imagine it's because somebody is being cranky and insisting on a contrived definition of "alive" that somehow excludes growth and metabolism.

BTW, even lower on the disease-causing agent scale are "prions". They don't even have DNA or RNA. They are just "misfolded" proteins. If they get into an organism (for example by being ingested) and encounter certain of its proteins, it makes them misfold too, kind of like how some compounds can crystallize in different ways depending on what kind of "seed crystal" they start from.

An example of a prion disease in humans is Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which affects the CNS.

rcocean said...

Your statement about the pencil reminds me of Savage the radio host who stated he wore gloves when he went outside to avoid germs. Yet he eats out regularly in restaurants! Who knows what the cook or waitress has done to his food. Sneezed on it? Even worse are the salad bars and hot bars. Go to whole foods and you'll see, people yakking on their cell phones while bending over the food.

rcocean said...

I've read all the closing of sporting events etc. is just a PR move. In a nation of 320 million, shutting down the NBA or MLB isn't going to "Flatten the curve" by a significant amount. But it allows the NBA/MLB to say "we care".

rcocean said...

Peeps need to understand that Bacteria and Viruses are different. Penicillin doesn't kill a virus.

Mark said...

Penicillin can, however, kill the underlying opportunistic bacteria that might spring into action when a person is weakened by all this Chinese virus stuff.

Fernandistein said...

Science only progresses when scientists disagree.

True, but this discussion is really about the definition of a word; viruses act in certain ways, and it doesn't matter whether or not those ways are considered "alive".

Yancey Ward said...

Viruses are the offshoots, or remnants, of how life got started in the first place- we are, all single and multi-cellular organisms, the present result of a process that started with the development of self-replicating molecules- the DNA and corresponding messenger RNA involved in protein synthesis. They are exactly as alive as all of our most ancient self-replicating ancestors, and the self-replicating molecules inside of us right now.

Fernandistein said...

Viruses don't metabolize, i.e., they do not (cannot) on their own use energy and raw materials in the environment to grow or replicate themselves.

Most bacteria, plants and animals can't use energy and raw materials in the environment to grow or replicate themselves on their own either, without other plants and animals. They just need other "life" in a different way than do viruses.

An exception might be the organisms which live on the chemicals from underwater thermal vents.

Owen said...

Great comments, people. Phidippus, I think you nailed it. Point for me is, whether you call it living or dead, it can do a lot of damage to us here in meat-space.

EsoxLucius said...

Perter Wehner, speechwriter for Reagan, Bush, and W: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/peter-wehner-trump-presidency-over/607969/
I don't know could have foreseen this failure at business, game show hosting, and humanity to do so miserably in the presidency.

tim in vermont said...

Our preoccupation to explain all things with scientific law has deadened our creative natures and concludes that the development of life on earth is not entirely predictable, because no theory could ever fully account for the limitless variations of evolution. From Richard Fernandez’s essay.

He’s right because life violates the second law of thermodynamics, or at least tacks against it for a time, like a boat sailing upwind. Therefore it’s not predictable, and as in one famous formulation, “Life finds a way."

tim in vermont said...

Buy canned vegetables and run the cans through the dishwasher if you are really paranoid.

Michael K said...

The viral DNA (or RNA, depending on the variety) reprograms the cell to make viruses instead of other cells.

Sometimes the virus leaves dna in the cell's genome and evolution might depend on viruses, as well as mutation.

tim in vermont said...

"and humanity to do so miserably in the presidency.”

All this kind of comment does at a time like this is re-enforces the support for Trump. Who wants misanthropes who see this only as a political opportunity to be ruling over us with a senile old man as a figurehead?

Phidippus said...

Fernandistein: Green plants use water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and a few minerals from the soil and grow using sunlight as their energy source. Those materials seem pretty raw to me; they are certainly inorganic. Most of the dry mass of a plant comes from the air, as experiments have shown (since the soil they grow in loses much less mass than the plant is seen to gain).

You're right that animals, fungi, and some plants need organic materials to get going. The extreme example of some that don't are those crazy sulfur-eating anaerobic bacteria that form the basis of the food chain at the deep-sea vents that you referred to.

Aunty Trump: You can get the impression that life violates the Second Law if you consider the organism in isolation, but if you draw the boundary to include its environment and the Sun, the entropy in that system is definitely increasing. Living things like you say are like sailboats tacking upwind, or eddies in a stream that temporarily move upstream against the current.

Yancey Ward said...

A freezing lake surface also "violates" the law of entropy, if considered in isolation.

EsoxLucius said...

Aunty Trump:
I'm just mad after reading https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/10/us/coronavirus-testing-delays.html (paywall), the story by Sheri Fink and Mike Baker about Dr. Helen Y. Chu, who was detecting COVID-19 in Seattle in February when federal officers told them to stop. I've been maintaining a neutral detachment from this site, but when a president kills to keep his ratings up, neutrality is amoral.

Bob said...

In my early 20's a doctor told me there was no treatment for a viral infection. That amazed me, so I started reading.

Not only do viruses not eat or breathe, they don't "attack" anything or anyone. They are particles of the chemistry of life. But they have no lives of their own.

Viruses float around in the environment until they "die" or encounter a possible host cell with "receptors" for viral surface proteins. Viruses do not invade cells. They are "invited in" (I don't know if this is still considered true of all viruses). Just like a hormone or a nutrient or something in the blood your cells need, a virus makes chance contact with a receptive cell, and the cell, thinking, "Oh, this is for me", draws the virus inside. Then it follows the "instructions" encoded in the viral DNA or RNA. Doing so may make many copies of the virus, which can kill the cell as it exports all those viral copies.

Then it gets really complicated, with the "innate immune system", antibodies, interferon, and so forth as the whole organism responds to a pathologic virus. But, that is the simple way I've understood viruses for many decades.

Yancey Ward said...

"I've been maintaining a neutral detachment from this site, but when a president kills to keep his ratings up, neutrality is amoral."

Oh, fuck. This wasn't Trump's decision- it was the result of regulations of long-standing before Trump took office, all relating to medical privacy and disclosure issues. In any case, nothing was really stopping these scientists from testing the samples which is exactly what they did anyway.

But, if you want to blame Trump for this, go right ahead, all the while maintaining your neutrality.

Bruce Hayden said...

Blogger Owen said...
“I am no scientist but I imagine different pathogens have different half-lives outside their hosts. Look as spores: they can survive years (decades?) under proper conditions. I think they have hard, impermeable shells in their dormant phase? Viral particles will have the inner body of genetic material and an envelope of proteins to bind to host cells and chew through their membranes. If you can disrupt that envelope (or inner body), say with soap (polar molecules that can bind to the envelope and tear it open?) or bleach (again, strong electric charge that rips the envelope?) or with UV (high-energy photons blowing the nucleotides apart?), then it's just inert bio-junk. But it's probabilistic, so the longer you wait, the better your odds.”

Interestingly, they have found million year old viruses, and recently were able to make it replicate in cells. Some of them are quite hardy. Luckily not SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19).

I got a lecture this week from my kid’s SO, who is an entomologist by training, but tests water for a large municipal water company for a living.

SARS-CoV-2 (as well as the SARS original, as well as MERS) is positive-sense, single-stranded RNA genomes (Type IV) virus, which means that it can get right to work replicating after coming out of its shell. Negative sense would mean that it has to be transposed first, and DNA viruses have to generate RNA to get started replicating. It is a helical virus surrounded by and protected by a spherical envelope, that has spikes that are used to attach to receptors (hence the name “Coronavirus”), that enable entry of the virus (absent the envelope) into a cell. One of the receptors known to be used for entry is the ACE2 receptor (which appear to be much more common in East Asians, such as Han Chinese), and disrupting that process has apparently shown some signs of success with SARS. type coronaviruses.

There are essentially two ways of sanitizing against this sort of virus. First, you can use something like soap to break the attachment they might have to a surface, and wash them away. Or you can destroy the envelope, which can be done by, for example, drying out the envelope with >= 70% alcohol. Critically though, with aerosol sprays, is to make sure that coverage of a surface is complete (which typically means that it looks wet) because otherwise there are gaps between whatever is being used to kill the viruses. Which probably means that just lightly spraying with Lysol is likely to do little good.

It appears that the SARS-CoV-2 first infected humans (Patient Zero) last November or December, and very likely near or in Wuhan, China, based on mutation rates and sequencing of detected COVID-19 cases. So far, in American cases where the virus was genetically decoded, there appears to have has been little mutation yet. This would all argue against a significant undetected population of COVID-19 patients in this country. Which, I think, means that we could, very possibly have adequate testing, as well as antivirals, and maybe eve a vaccine, by the tie that the disease got a really good foothold in this country. All conjecture, of course.

I apologize, I advance, to the many here who are better educated I this realm. What I have provided above is the research of a layman, and has never dealt in this area professionally. I won’t be offended if I am corrected. Knowledge here is good.

Interesting chart of SARS type Coronaviruses:
Phylogeny of SARS-like betacoronaviruses including novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2
Phylogeny of SARS-like betacoronaviruses including novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (filtered for bat, civet, and human)
The difference between these two in terms of completeness appears to be SARS type Coronaviruses transmitted from pangolins (scaly ant eaters).

EsoxLucius said...

Bob:
You are basically correct, but I need to add that the virus' protein outer shell haemagglutinin binds to the membrane and neuraminidase (the H and N of names) move the nucleic acids though the cell. Of course, evolution favors the proteins that succeed and, like the flower and the bee, each other have changed to accommodate.

tim in vermont said...

"but when a president kills to keep his ratings up, neutrality is amoral.”

I know that is supposed to sound menacing, but it’s just laughable. You do understand that rhetoric is language that sounds like logic, but it isn’t.

I could just as easily claim that by distracting Trump with impeachment and constant investigations in order to bring his ratings down while this crisis started brewng was murderous.

It’s an easy game to play, isn’t it? Chuck Schumer is a master of these kinds of Jedi mind tricks, but they mostly work only on people whose minds are to. weak to resist them.

EsoxLucius said...

Yancy Ward:
Are you really standing on the principle that Trump's blinding narcissism wasn't the proximate cause of the suppression of this information? He as much as admitted that he would prefer the cruse ship that left from America not dock here to keep his numbers down. He seems genuinely incapable of compassion. They are going to make an opera about a president who is germ-phobic, always railing about walls, and done in by a foreign virus.

tim in vermont said...

The testing thing was a fuckup caused by the professionals at the CDC to whom the president, sadly, deferred. Thats over now and Trump’s first instinct was probably to go to the private sector, and that is what is being followed now. Only a deluded fool could imagine not only that they could read Trump’s inner thoughts, but that they can confidently assign the worst motives to them.

There is another word for people who are confident about things which they cannot know: morons. Reckless would be the word I would use to describe whatever media outlet, Washington Post? MSNBC? CNN? that is feeding you this agitprop in a time of national crisis.

Michael K said...

about Dr. Helen Y. Chu, who was detecting COVID-19 in Seattle in February when federal officers told them to stop. I've been maintaining a neutral detachment from this site, but when a president kills to keep his ratings up, neutrality is amoral.

What in the world do you mean here? Do you think the CEO of Apple designs the iPhone11? Are you so stupid you think Trump runs the FDA and CDC personally ?

Mark said...

if you want to blame Trump for this, go right ahead, all the while maintaining your neutrality

There are moments in interpersonal relations -- and in societies too -- that are game-changers. Where something is said or done that cannot be unsaid or undone and radically changes the dynamic, where the differences become irreconilable and permanent damage if not sever the relationship altogether.

We are living in one of those times.

tim in vermont said...

I was going to read Geitner’s book on the financial crisis, Stress Test, but the first chapter was so full of cheap shots on Republicans of exactly that kind, that I put it down. “Republicans were willing to put the nation into default...” Well the flip side of that is “We were willing to put the nation into default if the Republicans don’t cave.” Since he never examined that, I knew the book was going to be a long load of political rationalizations and justifications.

The final straw was a cheap shot at D’nesh Dezozaa, a. man that the Obama administration put in jail on the pretext of a minor violation of campaign law, but really as a warning shot to conservatives to shut up.

EsoxLucius said...

Aunty Trump:
There's a word for those who insult in debates: losers. Please keep your comments above board.

tim in vermont said...

I am not sure Trump shut down travel from Continental Europe soon enough.

Holy Moley

tim in vermont said...

Desouza made a critical movie about Hillary. That’s the real reason a first offender went to jail over a minor offense, rather than paying a fine.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...


tim in vermont said...

"Please keep your comments above board.”

There’s a word for people who have no response to obvious criticisms of their arguments, “wrong."

tim in vermont said...

" Please keep your comments above board.”

This from a guy who accused Trump of cold blooded murder for personal gain. Which is pretty close to a call for his assasination.

Fernandistein said...

Fernandistein: Green plants use water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and a few minerals from the soil and grow using sunlight as their energy source. Those materials seem pretty raw to me; they are certainly inorganic.

True, maybe, but I'm pretty sure most plants need bacteria to make use of nitrogen and other elements in the soil. Maybe not all plants...

And "Plants rely on their resident bacteria to protect them from harmful microbes" - they might rot away without nice bacteria."

tim in vermont said...

"There is another word for people who are confident about things which they cannot know:”

You could explain why you are not a moron. How you can know that Trump is deliberately murdering people just to “keep his ratings up.”

That would be a good start to show that I am the moron.

Michael K said...

Here is a pretty good article summarizing the story of the origin of the virus.

The transmission of the virus from the virology lab to the public may never be known but there are a few good theories.

Michael K said...

EsoxLucius said...
Yancy Ward:
Are you really standing on the principle that Trump's blinding narcissism wasn't the proximate cause of the suppression of this information?


I see we have another leftist troll.

n.n said...

A virus is in form and function analogous to an egg or sperm, which scientifically and socially justifies some people's characterization and treatment of babies.

tim in vermont said...

"Are you really standing on the principle that Trump's blinding narcissism wasn't the proximate cause of the suppression of this information? “

This is what I am talking about.

Are you really standing on the principle that partisan efforts to impeach and damage Donald Trump, with the next election in mind, when the virus first emerged, was completely without consequences in terms of where the administration is on the learning curve? Schumer’s reckless attacks on the administration were cold blooded murder!

It’s easy as pie to make this shit up. All you need is the remotest plausibility. The rest is easy if your estimation of the IQ of the general public is low enough.

tim in vermont said...

How much attention could Trump give the CDC as the virus was emerging while he was being impeached for looking into corruption and election interference?

BUMBLE BEE said...

Aunty Trump @ 1:01... More to the point, it is also why Rosie O'Donnell did NOT go to jail for 3 times as much dough over "legal campaign donations" she made!

Narayanan said...

Wasn't theory proposed that RNA in human cell is permanent viral component piggybacking on DNA to reproduce?!

agentlesoul said...

The life/nonlife issue with a virus is interesting. The analogy to a software virus is apt - the latter being a snippet of code with instructions to take over a machine and force it to do things to benefit the virus writer rather than the machine owner. By itself, the virus is dead, just a file of characters, but once installed on the target machine it turns the activity of the machine to a new purpose. Among those purposes is always to replicate itself, to use the machine to spew out millions of new virus copies through the internet.

Computer viruses don't evolve new forms on their own, only human coders can do that. With a biological virus, they do seem to evolve on their own, as far as anyone knows. If successful, there will be billions of copies of the virus throughout a population until an immune defense develops. Once all of the targets are either immune or dead, the virus will disappear unless it mutates some new form to evade the immune response and can start to spread again.

Is that the behavior of a living thing? It is hard to say. The virus is basically information, a snippet of machine code or RNA or DNA. All of the energy to reproduce the virus comes from the host systems, because the virus itself is dead. We are the hosts that get hijacked by the virus, and they become part of us.

eddie willers said...

did not know that Dean Jones had starred in it, let alone that he could sing. I only knew him from years of middling TV shows and Disney movies.

To lighten it up but still be sorta on topic:

Dean Jones was very religious and known not to swear and for his many G-rated Disney Movies. When Disney decided they wanted to make more adult fare, rather than ruin the brand they created an entity called Touchstone Pictures. They ask Jones what he thought of the plan and he said:

Well...I guess they can make "That Fucking Cat".

gspencer said...

Way prefer the Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_izvAbhExY

Big Mike said...

Viruses do what all living organisms do — they reproduce themselves and they try to stay alive until they can do so. Some geneticists joke that organisms, from single-celled up to warm-blooded species, are merely strategies by which genes reproduce themselves.

Jim at said...

Please keep your comments above board.

This from the person who just accused the President of committing murder.

That's rich.

narciso said...

Geithner as the fed gov in ny, could have stopped lehman bros, from sliding, you want to call it peter principle or malice, I lean toward the latter point, I have my theory why lehman was allowed to fall as well,

narciso said...

he was usually the mentor with the young kurt Russell, before the latter became snake plissken and other roles, the last part I saw jones in was as presidential advisor in clear and present danger in 94,

narciso said...

it involves their energy consultant, mr morse, and the way he saw the oil spike that sustained the speculative wave as unsustainable,

tim in vermont said...

I don’t know the facts behind it all, maybe I will actually read the book, despite it’s limitations, but clearly Geithner is no deep thinking.

wbfjrr2 said...

Geithner was the treasury secretary who never paid taxes, or was in serious arrears. But he was a democrat, so there’s that.

Joan said...

Fernandistein, we are all reliant on the microbiome, and we are only just beginning to understand by how much. One statistic that's floating around right now is that, percentage-wise, there are more non-human cells (bacteria) in every one of us than there are human cells. We are walking chimera.

The definition of life is nearly as tricky as the definition of species. Currently there are some 27 different definitions all vying for the win. It's likely they'll all stick around because each is useful in different situations. I use the OGRES acronym to teach "life" to my 8th grade students: organized into cells, grows and develops, reproduces, uses energy, and maintains conditions necessary for the state of life (homeostasis). We also talk about how cells are basically bags of goo with DNA and some other stuff, but you need the bag (cell membrane), the goo (cytoplasm), and the DNA or you don't have a cell, and Cell Theory states quite clearly, "All living things are made of cells."

Viruses have a membrane (some of them), and they have DNA (or RNA, we'll just spot them this one), and they can reproduce in the right environment. They aren't organized into cells (their protein coatings are nowhere near as complex as cell membranes), they don't grow, they don't use energy, and they don't maintain homeostasis. Hence the debate.

RNA is essential to life because it is the means by which proteins are synthesized. The majority of chemical reactions take place via enzymes, which are proteins, whose synthesis is controlled by the elegant interaction of DNA, 3 types of RNA, and tiny inter-molecular forces in the polar environment of cytoplasm. RNA has a hugely important role in all living things and is far more than a "permanent viral component piggybacking on DNA to reproduce." DNA without RNA is useless, like having a blueprint but nothing to build with (amino acids don't enter the nucleus) and nobody to build it for you (this would be mRNA, tRNA,and rRNA) even if you had the materials (amino acids).

/end lecture
Sorry, this is my absolute favorite stuff to teach!

Joan said...

Also, just because you touch a surface with a virus on it, even if the virus is still "viable", doesn't mean you're going to get sick. Our skin does an amazing job of keeping hostile actors out of our bodies, which is why the trick is to avoid introducing those hostile actors into our bodies by touching any opening (typically in the face) in the skin: all those mucous membranes. Cuts and scrapes can be an entry point for infection, also.

Even if a few virus particles sneak in, you're not necessarily going to get sick. A healthy immune system can detect, isolate, and destroy the invaders. But sometimes we still do get sick, because one or two cells get infected, and then reproduce the pathogens, which get released into our system,and then more cells get infected. That's what's happening during the so-called incubation period: the virus (or bacteria) is ramping up production inside you until your body systems are negatively affected and you actually notice consciously that's something not right. It's a constant state of low-level warfare in there, and most of the time we can ignore it. One of things that's nasty about COVID-19 is that apparently you can transmit the virus during it's rather lengthy (14 day,some say 21 day) incubation period,so you can be exposing others well before you even realize you have it.

Keeping your hands clean AND away from your face (and other mucous membranes) is really the best way to prevent illness. But if an infected person coughs and you breathe in that air, laden with microscopic drops of sputum with zillions of copies of the virus, washing your hands isn't going to help... hence, social distancing, which probably mitigates at least some of that risk.

walter said...

The Pick

Cato said...

Awesome post! (Who knew Dean Jones could sing? I thought his talent was racing Volkswagons for Disney.)

Gabriel said...

@Ann: I guess scientists argue about what it means to be "truly alive." Why can't they agree?

If they simply wanted to define "alive", the way the law defines legal adulthood as being above a certain calendar age, of course they could, a la Humpty Dumpty ("when I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.")

The argument is over what definition of "alive" is most useful for scientific purposes. If one definition is to prevail for the community, some scientific purposes have to be subordinated to others and each scientist has their own set of priorities.

Nothing specific to science here--just plains apes trying to do something in a group--except the topic.

An analogy is "work" in physics. "Work" in physics implies motion and force simultaneously (with the motion at least somewhat in the same direction as the force). Using a stovetop or an oven is not doing "work" to physicist even though it requires expenditure of energy. (Of course an Orthodox Jew may consider it "work" for very different reasons.) Neither is holding a heavy weight above one's head.

Expanding the physics definition of "work" to include what non-physicists consider "work" makes the word less useful for most physicists. It was only ever intended to be a mnemonic or a label for an abstract mathematical concept (an integral of the dot product of two vectors), and not intended to capture anything about the concept of "work" as used outside of physics..

Nichevo said...

Aunty Trump said...
"Please keep your comments above board.”

There’s a word for people who have no response to obvious criticisms of their arguments, “wrong."

...

This from a guy who accused Trump of cold blooded murder for personal gain. Which is pretty close to a call for his assassination.


Indeed. EsoxLucius, "worthless" would be an overestimation of your remarks, and "Shut up, shithead" an excessively kind and generous response. To actually refute you? You are an incredulous state.