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JAMA Revisited
January 27, 2015

The Architecture of Viruses

JAMA. 2015;313(4):426. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11548

Because the viruses possess properties characteristic of living organisms and may cause disease they interest not only the biologist and bacteriologist but also the pathologist. As some of them have characteristics of molecules they likewise draw the attention of the chemist. Even the philosopher is attracted by them because they throw new light on the question of the nature of life. In a recent review Stanley,1 whose name is intimately associated with the study of proteins, not only presents recent advances in virus research but also speculates on the possible relationship between the atomic theory of matter, the germ theory of disease and the cell theory of life. The architecture of viruses is even more complex than that of the proteins; while simpler viruses seem to be composed of protein and nucleic acid, others also contain carbohydrate and the most complex contain materials which are indistinguishable from those found in bacteria. Although certain of the viruses exhibit chemical and physical characteristics of nucleoproteins and are called molecules by some investigators, the same particles are referred to by others as organisms or cells. Since a number of the viruses have been obtained in crystalline form, it is interesting to note Stanley’s conclusion that crystallinity of itself is not evidence as to the animate or inanimate nature of a material.

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