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How Do Viruses Reproduce?

The main mission of viruses is to reproduce. However, they can’t do this on their own. They need a host. In this article, we’ll answer the question: how do viruses reproduce? Let’s get started.

What is a Virus?

how do viruses reproduceA virus is an infectious agent that requires a host cell/organism to multiply. They can do this in both plants and animals. It was in 1898 that the first virus was discovered.

Since that time, thousands more have been identified, although scientists believe that there are millions out there.

They exist in virtually every type of ecosystem on the planet, and are a central point of emphasis in the study of microbiology.

Bottom Line: Viruses cannot reproduce without a host cell. They can multiply in plants and animals alike.  

The Lytic Cycle

the lytic cycle virusesThe lytic cycle happens whenever the virus has attached to the host cell and begun to inject its DNA into the cell.

From here, the host cell will begin to produce copies of the virus’s DNA. This DNA is eventually assembled into a new virus.

Eventually, the host cell accumulates so many new viruses that it bursts, causing the cell to die.

The viruses then spread to other cells where they repeat the process. This is the main way how viruses reproduce.

Bottom Line: In the lytic cycle, the virus utilizes the cell’s own DNA-making machinery to produce more of itself.

The Lysogenic Cycle

lysogenic cycle virusesThe lysogenic cycle is a bit different. Rather than finding a host cell and replicating straight away, it waits. This is the case with viruses such as HIV or herpes.

They enter the host cell and remain hidden there for many years. During this time, the cell won’t show any symptoms of being infected and will operate normally.

Eventually, the viral DNA becomes “activated” and the virus begins to reproduce. Like the lytic cycle, it results in the host cell rupturing from the accumulation of too many viruses.

Bottom Line: In the lysogenic cycle, the viral DNA can remain inactive for many years in the cell before the virus finally decides to begin multiplying.  

Technically Viruses Don’t “Reproduce”

When learning about how viruses reproduce, it’s important to get the terminology right.

Technically, they don’t “reproduce”. A more accurate way of putting it is that they “recruit” the host cell to make more of the virus.

The virus is simply providing the blueprint and then uses the cell’s DNA-making machinery to make more of itself. Rather than say reproduce, it’s better to say that the viruses “multiply”.

Bottom Line: Technically, viruses don’t reproduce. Instead, it’s more accurate to say that they multiply using the host cell’s machinery.

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