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					This article is about the biological agent. For other uses, see Virus (disambiguation).

For a generally accessible and less technical introduction to the topic, see Introduction to viruses.

A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses
                                                                                       [1]
can infect all types of organism, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea.

Since Dmitri Ivanovsky's 1892 article describing a non-bacterial pathogen infecting tobacco plants, and
                                                                            [2]
the discovery of the tobacco mosaic virus by Martinus Beijerinck in 1898, about 5,000 viruses have
                         [3]                                             [4]
been described in detail, although there are millions of different types. Viruses are found in almost
                                                                                [5][6]
every ecosystem on Earth and are the most abundant type of biological entity.          The study of viruses is
known as virology, a sub-speciality ofmicrobiology.

Virus particles (known as virions) consist of two or three parts: the genetic material made from
either DNA or RNA, long molecules that carry genetic information; a protein coat that protects these
genes; and in some cases anenvelope of lipids that surrounds the protein coat when they are outside a
cell. The shapes of viruses range from simple helical and icosahedral forms to more complex structures.
The average virus is about one one-hundredth the size of the average bacterium. Most viruses are too
small to be seen directly with an optical microscope.

The origins of viruses in the evolutionary history of life are unclear: some may
have evolved from plasmids – pieces of DNA that can move between cells – while others may have
evolved from bacteria. In evolution, viruses are an important means of horizontal gene transfer, which
                             [7]
increases genetic diversity.

Viruses spread in many ways; viruses in plants are often transmitted from plant to plant by insects that
feed onplant sap, such as aphids; viruses in animals can be carried by blood-sucking insects. These
disease-bearing organisms are known as vectors. Influenza viruses are spread by coughing and
sneezing. Norovirus and rotavirus, common causes of viral gastroenteritis, are transmitted by the faecal-
oral route and are passed from person to person by contact, entering the body in food or water. HIV is
one of several viruses transmitted through sexual contact and by exposure to infected blood. The range
of host cells that a virus can infect is called its "host range". This can be narrow or, as when a virus is
                                              [8]
capable of infecting many species, broad.

Viral infections in animals provoke an immune response that usually eliminates the infecting virus.
Immune responses can also be produced by vaccines, which confer an artificially acquired immunity to
the specific viral infection. However, some viruses including those that cause AIDS and viral
hepatitis evade these immune responses and result in chronic infections.Antibiotics have no effect on
viruses, but several antiviral drugs have been developed.

				
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