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whitetigress's avatar

How does the CDC keep the small pox alive?

Asked by whitetigress (3129 points ) December 5th, 2011

Not, why the CDC keeps small pox alive, but how.

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8 Answers

Fly's avatar

The smallpox virus is deep-frozen. There are only two places to keep it alive- the CDC and a lab in Russia. This 1993 New York Times Article talks more about the controversy of keeping frozen specimens of the smallpox virus.

whitetigress's avatar

@Fly Yes, I understand it is frozen, but, must they warm it up time to time to keep it alive? Because isn’t technically speaking, frozen means stopping all function organelles even on a virus species?

Lightlyseared's avatar

Small pox is a virus and as such it is not alive and can never be alive. It is nothin more than string of DNA encased in some protiens. On its own it is can not do any of the things an organism must do to be defined as “alive”. It needs a host cell to be able to hijack the DNA synthesis mechanisms of to make more copies of itself and even that is not enough to be able to describe it as alive. The correct question is how do the CDC keep the smallpox virus viable? To be keep the virus viable you need to keep its DNA in an unchanging state and the easiest way to create an unchanging state is to freeze it. At very low temperatures it makes it much harder for atoms to move about as there is much less energy available so all the atoms in the viruses DNA stay where they are (ie in the correct order).

King_Pariah's avatar

Lightlyseared is correct. Viruses are not living organisms. They’re more similar to say robotics on an assembly line programmed to do one task over and over and over again.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Lightlyseared and @King_Pariah There is still debate about this. Rupert Sheldrake, for example, argues that genetics alone cannot account for the behaviour of lifeforms, and that all life is connected through the morphic field, which contains information necessary for living entities to function. We are learning through the neo-Lamarckian study of epigenetics that things are much more complex than simple Mendelian genetics would suggest. Since no one, anywhere, has been able to assemble a functional lifeform from raw, unliving materials, there is still a good deal of uncertainty about the nature of life.

whitetigress's avatar

Strange, the way they act are as if they are pre programmed data with only a purpose to hijack dna…

King_Pariah's avatar

@SmashTheState is correct in that there is a debate, but it’s currently commonly accepted that viruses are NOT living organisms.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@SmashTheState there is no doubt that the role of DNA in the grand adventure we call life is much more complicated than the simple expression of genes. For example the coding section of the human genome is identical to the coding section of the chimpanzee genome. There is not one structure, protien, metabolic pathway or what have you in a human that does not have an analouge in a chimpanzee and yet you would not mistake the two. Obviously the 97% of genome that doesn’t code for protiens and commonly reffered to as junk is doing something. This is well accepted and has been for a long time. Even Mendel knew not everything was as simple as the colour of Pisum sativum flowers.
However using every currently accepted method of defining life it is hard to argue that viruses are alive. Sheldrake’s theories are certainly interesting but as theres is no way to prove or disprove them they fall squarely in the realm of philosopy (or, if one is being cruel, the same pseudoscience that creationists rely on to disprove evolution).

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