Read This: A Planet of Viruses


19 Responses to “Read This: A Planet of Viruses”

  1. mikelipino says:

    Does anyone else think that 1×10^30 viruses sounds incredible? The number of stars in the observable universe has been estimated at 3×10^23, meaning that in tiny droplet we call an ocean on the mote of dust we call Earth floating through the vast expanse of space, there are ~10 million times more viruses than there are stars? If that’s so then I just blew my mind…

  2. daen says:

    Approximately 1.4 x 10E+21 liters of water in the oceans (according to ).

    Between 50,000 and 50,000,000 viruses per teaspoon of seawater (according to NASA) – let’s say 500,000 (5x10E+5) average.

    Approximately 200 (2x10E+2)teaspoons per liter (according to Google).

    Multiply them together and you get 1.4 E+29 viruses in the ocean (which is to within 0.6 o.o.m. of Carl’s estimate) … wow indeed.

  3. warreno says:

    Now just wait a minute here. A nonfiction book that offers yet more proof of the fact of evolution – illustrated with color plates – and you’re quibbling over the price?

    $20 is more than reasonable.

  4. g0d5m15t4k3 says:

    yeah that would have been a cool book to read for my HS biology class. i haven’t touched biology since then (i went the chemistry-physics route) but it looks really interesting.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The world is run by the cooties

  6. blake31a says:

    1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000? Sounds like an estimate to me. I want an actual count.

  7. hassenpfeffer says:

    How is Gardasil controversial? Is it opposed by the general “no one should have sex, ever”/”Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory” crowd? My wife and I were very happy to hear that it’s been approved for use on boys. We plan to have our young sons vaccinated when they hit the appropriate age.

  8. Mongrove_Moone says:


    Considering that viruses are significantly smaller than bacteria and have the ability to turn living cells into “virus factories”, whereas stars are significantly larger than planets and do not have the ability to replicate at all, the numbers don’t really sound that far off.

    @Anon (#5)

    Indeed it is. Read Zimmer’s outstanding “Parasite Rex” for a better view of just how cootie-filled and cootie-manipulated our world really is. (Spoiler: extremely filled and manipulated.)


    I tend to agree with you that viruses do not fit any of the criteria for life, having no metabolism nor independent mechanism for reproduction. However, from what I’ve read in the popular science press, it seems as though viruses are getting a “pass” for being alive. (I’m guessing the hypothesis of “virus as biological robot” is too far-fetched for mainstream consumption, even though it is an entirely accurate description.)

  9. xilantro says:

    OK – the remarks about scale & the actual number got me going…
    So viruses are between 20 and 300 nm (according to ), so in rough terms, if we make a cube of solid virus averaging 100nm diameter, it should, well-packed, measure on each side:

    # of viruses ^(-3) * # of meters per virus

    10^27 * 10^(-7)


    so the solid mass of viruses on earth is 10^17 kilometers per side?

    Good book so far. I am now skeptical of both the claim and my reasoning.. and I haven’t even bought it yet.

    • daen says:

      Uh, not quite.

      Let’s stick with your assumption of a 100nm-per-side cubic virus (cubivirus?).

      That has a volume (Vc) of 10E-7 ^ 3, which is 10E-21 cubic metres.

      To get the number of cubic metres that 10E+30 cubiviruses (Ncv) would occupy, we multiply Nc by Vc:

      10E-21 * 10E+30

      Which gives us the total volume (Vt) of 10E+9 cubic metres, which is a solid cube of cubiviruses measuring 1km per side.

      Ick. That is a LOT of viral protein.

      • daen says:

        If you want to put that in context, if you assume the average human weighs about 70kg (7E+1kg), given that our density is about that of water (1E+3kg per cubic metre), a human occupies a volume of about 7E-2 cubic metres (Vh). The human race currently numbers about 7E+9 (Nh). The entire human race would occupy a volume of about 5E+8 cubic metres, which is a cube measuring about 800m per side, half as much than just the seaborne viruses.

  10. Anonymous says:

    We humans (not-so-hairy apes) may like to think that we are individuals. In the USA, that’s “rugged individuals”. Wrong. We are communities. We are vast agglomerations of organic entities, each with their own DNA and their own interests. We are carriers. Our biomass is most bacterial and viral. Our perceptions are filtered, mediated by our memories and expectations. We are peripatetic nodes in distributed networks. (Uh oh, jargon! Shoot me now!) But really, folks — you’re buggier than hell!

  11. ian_b says:

    “the world’s smallest life forms”

    By what definition is a virus living? Is this discussed in the book?

  12. at0mburke says:

    “they all do seem to want to hurt me so”
    give props to the ‘good’ viruses 2 tho’

  13. bjohndick says:

    Ok I’ll admit you sold me on this book. (Bought it for $13 @ Amazon)

    I confess to a somewhat lacking biology education, and a typically short attention span, so this sounds pretty much right up my alley.

    As for viruses specifically, I recently had a bout with shingles, luckily caught it early and got some anti-viral medications. The ordeal did renew this thought that viruses are really kind of weird things – they are kind of amazing; it’s just a pity they all do seem to want to hurt me so.

  14. Clemoh says:

    That image is totally haunting. I could imagine someone making a complete art exhibit by knitting and/or crocheting those images; they really lend themselves to that form.

  15. at0mburke says:

    jr high bio classes- that might be about right, but doubt you’d see it in schools teaching to a NCLB bottom-line curriculum

  16. ultranaut says:

    and all watched over by machines of loving grace

Leave a Reply