What roles for viruses in origin of life scenarios?

Gladys Kostyrka*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Important roles in origin of life (OL) scenarios have been and still are attributed to viruses. Yet the strict dependence of viruses on cells for their multiplication has been widely acknowledged since the first decades of the 20th century. How could viruses play critical roles in the OL if life relies on cellular organization and if viruses are defined as parasites of cells? In other words, how could viruses play a role in the emergence of cellular life if the existence of cells is a prerequisite for the existence of viruses? This paper investigates this issue and describes past and current OL scenarios conferring viruses with important roles, thereby completing the work of historian of science and physician Scott Podolsky who identified three major roles of viruses in past OL scenarios. Some objections raised by present OL scenarios conferring viruses with an important role are discussed. I argue that disagreements concerning the roles of viruses in OL scenarios stem from the different concepts of life and of virus scientists defend. Investigating the roles of viruses in OL scenarios not only helps identifying different ways to define life in the context of OL theorizing. It also offers the opportunity to better understand how viruses could be conceptualized. The relevance of the replication-first versus metabolism-first dichotomy in OL theorizing is briefly discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-144
Number of pages10
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Early online date17 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • gradualist versus dichotomous accounts
  • life
  • metabolism-first
  • origin-of-life scenarios
  • replication-first
  • virus


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