A virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of other organisms. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea.〔
Since Dmitri Ivanovsky's 1892 article describing a non-bacterial pathogen infecting tobacco plants, and the discovery of the tobacco mosaic virus by Martinus Beijerinck in 1898,〔 about 5,000 virus species have been described in detail,〔Dimmock p. 49〕 although there are millions of different types. Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most abundant type of biological entity.〔 The study of viruses is known as virology, a sub-speciality of microbiology.
While not inside an infected cell or in the process of infecting a cell, viruses exist in the form of independent particles. These viral particles, also known as virions, consist of two or three parts: (i) the genetic material made from either DNA or RNA, long molecules that carry genetic information; (ii) a protein coat, called the capsid, which surrounds and protects the genetic material; and in some cases (iii) an envelope of lipids that surrounds the protein coat when they are outside a cell. The shapes of these virus particles range from simple helical and icosahedral forms for some virus species to more complex structures for others. Most virus species have virions that are too small to be seen with an optical microscope. The average virion is about one one-hundredth the size of the average bacterium.
The origins of viruses in the evolutionary history of life are unclear: some may have evolved from plasmids—pieces of DNA that can move between cells—while others may have evolved from bacteria. In evolution, viruses are an important means of horizontal gene transfer, which increases genetic diversity.〔 Viruses are considered by some to be a life form, because they carry genetic material, reproduce, and evolve through natural selection. However they lack key characteristics (such as cell structure) that are generally considered necessary to count as life. Because they possess some but not all such qualities, viruses have been described as "organisms at the edge of life".
Viruses spread in many ways; viruses in plants are often transmitted from plant to plant by insects that feed on plant sap, such as aphids; viruses in animals can be carried by blood-sucking insects. These disease-bearing organisms are known as vectors. Influenza viruses are spread by coughing and sneezing. Norovirus and rotavirus, common causes of viral gastroenteritis, are transmitted by the faecal–oral route and are passed from person to person by contact, entering the body in food or water. HIV is one of several viruses transmitted through sexual contact and by exposure to infected blood. The range of host cells that a virus can infect is called its "host range". This can be narrow, meaning a virus is capable of infecting few species, or broad, meaning it is capable of infecting many.〔Shors pp. 49–50〕
Viral infections in animals provoke an immune response that usually eliminates the infecting virus. Immune responses can also be produced by vaccines, which confer an artificially acquired immunity to the specific viral infection. However, some viruses including those that cause AIDS and viral hepatitis evade these immune responses and result in chronic infections. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but several antiviral drugs have been developed.
== Etymology ==
The word is from the Latin neuter ''vīrus'' referring to poison and other noxious liquids, from 'the same Indo-European base as Sanskrit ''viṣa'' poison, Avestan ''vīša'' poison, ancient Greek ''ἰός'' poison', first attested in English in 1398 in John Trevisa's translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus's ''De Proprietatibus Rerum''.〔"virus, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 23 March 2015.〕 ''Virulent'', from Latin ''virulentus'' (poisonous), dates to c. 1400.〔"virulent, adj." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 23 March 2015.〕 A meaning of "agent that causes infectious disease" is first recorded in 1728,〔 before the discovery of viruses by Dmitri Ivanovsky in 1892. The English plural is ''viruses'' (sometimes also ''viri''〔e.g. Michael Worboys: ''Cambridge History of Medicine: Spreading Germs: Disease Theories and Medical Practice in Britain, 1865-1900'', Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 204〕 or ''vira''〔e.g. Karsten Buschard & Rikke Thon: ''Diabetic Animal Models''. In: ''Handbook of Laboratory Animal Science. Second Edition. Volume II: Animal Models'', edited by Jann Hau & Gerald L. Van Hoosier Jr., CRC Press, 2003, p. 163 & 166〕), whereas the Latin word is a mass noun, which has no classically attested plural (however in Neo-Latin ''vīra''〔William T. Stearn: ''Botanical Latin. History, Grammar, Syntax, Terminology and Vocabulary.'' David & Charles, third edition, 1983. Quote: "Virus: virus (s.n. II), ''gen. sing.'' viri, ''nom. pl.'' vira, ''gen. pl.'' vīrorum (to be distinguished from ''virorum'', of men)."〕〔(Pons: ''virus'' )〕 is used). The adjective ''viral'' dates to 1948. The term ''virion'' (plural ''virions''), which dates from 1959, is also used to refer to a single, stable infective viral particle that is released from the cell and is fully capable of infecting other cells of the same type.
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