Viral Evolution, Morphology, and Classification

Section Summary

Viruses are tiny, noncellular entities that usually can be seen only with an electron microscope. Their genomes contain either DNA or RNA—never both—and they replicate either by using the replication proteins of a host cell or by using proteins encoded in the viral genome. Viruses are diverse, infecting archaea, bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals. Viruses consist of a nucleic acid core surrounded by a protein capsid with or without an outer lipid envelope. The capsid shape, presence of an envelope, and core composition dictate some elements of the classification of viruses. The most commonly used classification method, the Baltimore classification, categorizes viruses based on how they produce their mRNA.