Viruses Parasites of the Cellular Genetic System

Viruses cannot reproduce by themselves and must commandeer a host cell's machinery to synthesize viral proteins and in some cases to replicate the viral genome. RNA viruses, which usually replicate in the host-cell cytoplasm, have an RNA genome, and DNA viruses, which commonly replicate in the host-cell nucleus, have a DNA genome (see Figure 4-1). Viral genomes may be single- or double-stranded, depending on the specific type of virus. The entire infectious virus particle, called a virion, consists of the nucleic acid and an outer shell of protein. The simplest viruses contain only enough RNA or DNA to encode four proteins; the most complex can encode 100-200 proteins. In addition to their obvious importance as causes of disease, viruses are extremely useful as research tools in the study of basic biological processes.

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