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Virology is the study of viruses and virus-like agents, including (but not limited to) their taxonomy, disease-producing properties, cultivation and genetics. It is often considered a part of microbiology or pathology. In the early years this discipline was dependent upon advances in the chemical and physical sciences, but viruses soon became tools for probing basic biochemical processes of cells. Viruses have traditionally been viewed in a rather negative context as agents responsible for disease that must be controlled or eliminated. However, viruses also have certain beneficial properties that can be exploited for useful purposes (for example in gene therapy or vaccinology). In general, viruses contain only one type of nucleic acid (either DNA or RNA) that carries the information necessary for viral replication. Nevertheless, it is clear now that some viruses contain other nucleic acid molecules; for example, in retroviruses, cellular transfer RNAs are essential for the action of the enzyme reverse transcriptase. The chemical composition of viruses varies between different virus families. For the simplest of viruses, the virion is composed of viral structural proteins and nucleic acid, but the situation becomes more complex with the enveloped viruses. The latter types of viruses are maturing by budding through different cellular membranes that are modified by the insertion of viral proteins.


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