You probably think about viruses only when you’re sick, but there’s a group of microbiologists who want to change that. In fact, they want you to consider the possibility that viruses may be found in space.
In a recent review, published online Jan. 10 in the journal Astrobiology, a trio of scientists from the U.S. and Japan posited that viruses may be spread across interplanetary space. Those researchers want to convince astrobiologists to devote more time looking for these curious molecular machines.
A virion — the form a virus takes outside of a host — consists of genetic material encapsulated in a protein shell. Some viruses also have an outer lipid layer called an envelope. One way to think of a virion is as a seed or a spore, the authors wrote.
Viruses straddle the definition of life. They lack the machinery to reproduce on their own, so they must infect a host cell and hijack its machinery. This has led to decades of debate over whether viruses should technically be considered living.