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Similarities and Dissimilarities of Computer Viruses and Biological Viruses.

Gert Korthof
first published: 2 Feb 2006. Last update: 24 Sep 2020

Corona virus (wikipedia) Overlapping but non-identical sets of units of evolution and units of life
Overlapping but non-identical sets of units of evolution and units of life.
(figure from The Principles of Life, page 159).
Computer viruses are included in 'Viruses'. Humans are included in section 'Bacteria'.
Prions and Alife (Artificial Life) could be added to viruses and memes because they are evolving but not alive.

s i m i l a r i t i e s
 1infection of specific targets (.exe or .com files)infection of specific targets (host cells)
 2attach to .exe or .com filesintegrate in DNA
 3contains executable codecontains genetic code that can be transcribed and translated
 4virus and host use same software languagevirus and host use same language (genetic code)
 5contain information, have length expressed in b(ytes)contain information, have length expressed in b(ases)
 6source code causes behaviour of virusgenotype causes phenotype including behaviour
 7virus has small size relative to host softwaresmall genome relative to host genome
 8spread to other computersspread to other hosts
 9parasitism: copied by hostcopied by host cell
10one virus per fileno re-infection of same cell
11initially infected file is functional initially infected cell is functional
12user does not immediately notice infectionhost organism does not immediately notice infection
13software can be made immune to infectionnot every cell is infected
14specificity for Operating System (Windows, Unix, Linux) or hardwarehost specificity (biological species)
15different types (groups) of viruses existspecies, families of viruses exist
16degrees of harmfulnessdifferent degrees of virulence
17difference in susceptibility of computersdifference in susceptibility of individuals and species
18anti-virus software on computerimmune system of host (animals, plants, bacteria)
19percentage of infected files on computerviral load (number of viral particles in host organism)
20percentage of computers protected by anti-virus softwarepercentage of individuals in population immune to virus (vaccinated or acquired immunity)
21PC's came first, viruses laterhost organism evolved prior to infecting virus
22not living according to Ganti definitionnot living according to Ganti definition
p o t e n t i a l    s i m i l a r i t i e s
 1spread via Trojan horse, floppy disk, e-mail, internetspread via vector (mosquitos, bats, rats)
 2mutating virus virus mutates
 3activation of virus depends on dateseasonal activity of virus
 4software version dependent actionage dependent action of virus
 5virus infects new host softwareinfection of new host species
 6anti-virus software comes at a priceimmune system is costly for the organism
 7arms race virus and anti-virus softwarearms race virus and immune system (vaccines development)
 8virus disables virus scanner- virus interferes with or inhibits immune reaction (HIV, Influenza).
- bacteriophage (virus) proteins can block CRISPR–Cas defences of bacteria.
- measles virus has immunosuppressive effects
 9hidden presence of viruslatency; dormancy; symptom free period
10polymorphic viruspolymorphic virus
11stealth techniques to avoid detectionability to escape detection by immune system (HIV-1)
12Darwinian evolution of mutating virusesDarwinian evolution of mutating viruses
13detected by virus signaturedetected by virus signature
14quarantine of infected filequarantine of infected person
15delete infected fileprogrammed cell death as a defence against infection
16can cause economic damagecan cause economic damage
17computer lockdown prevents virus transmissionlockdown stops virus transmission between individuals
d i s s i m i l a r i t i e s
 1created by humans created by biological evolution
 2source code known to author of the virussequence of new virus not known
 3no 2D or 3D formalways 3D structure
 4virtual (digital)material; based on molecules
 5no auto-immunityauto-immune diseases
 6cannot kill humanscan kill humans (Ebola, Marburg, HIV, Corona)
 7no huge amounts of virus in host computerup to 109 or 1011 virus partices per mL in host (source)
 8use the same digital computer code (0s and 1s)different 'codes' exist: DNA and RNA; single-stranded and double-stranded; positive- and negative-stranded viruses.
p o t e n t i a l    d i s s i m i l a r i t i e s
1different computer viruses have no recombinationsometimes different viruses have recombination (sex)
2useful viruses do not existsome viruses have useful effects for the host (oncolytic viruses; lentiviral genetherapy)
3linear sequencelinear or circular sequence
4single sequencesingle-stranded or double-stranded
5steal data (account and personal information), spyware, ransomwareNo Ransomware, spyware, etc.

Comparing natural evolution and evolutionary algorithms

From: 'From evolutionary computation to the evolution of things', Agoston E. Eiben, Jim Smith Nature, 521, 476–482 (28 May 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14544

PropertyNatural evolutionEvolutionary algorithms
FitnessObserved quantity: a posteriori effect of selection and reproduction ('in the eye of the observer').Predefined a priori quantity that drives selection and reproduction.
SelectionComplex multifactor force based on environmental conditions, other individuals of the same species and those of other species (predators). Viability is tested continually; reproducibility is tested at discrete times.Randomized operator with selection probabilities based on given fitness values. Survivor selection and parent selection both happen at discrete times.
Genotype–phenotype mappingHighly complex biochemical and developmental process influenced by the environment.Typically a simple mathematical transformation or parameterized procedure. A few systems use generative and developmental genotype–phenotype maps.
VariationOffspring are created from one (asexual reproduction) or two parents (sexual reproduction). Horizontal gene transfer can accumulate genes from more individuals.Unconstrained vertical gene transfer. Offspring may be generated from any number of parents: one, two or many.
ExecutionParallel, decentralized execution; birth and death events are not synchronized.Typically centralized with synchronized birth and death.
PopulationSpatial embedding implies structured populations. Population size varies according to the relative number of birth and death events. Populations can and do go extinct.Typically unstructured and panmictic (all individuals are potential partners). Population size is usually kept constant by synchronizing time and number of birth and death events.

Further Reading


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Copyright ©G. Korthof 2006 First published: 2 Feb 2006 Updated: 24 Sep 2020 F.R: 17 Feb 2016