They look at it under a microscope and see if it has cells.
Basically, if it has cells the it's alive. If it doesn't have cells
it is considered nonliving. There are smaller archaebacteria that
behave like small parts of cells. These are considered living too,
because they have chemical bonds of RNA, which is the singular
shorter form of DNA. There is evidence that viruses change with
different hosts, but they are generally considered non-living. They
are much smaller chemical chains (with some form of movement and
reproduction) and do not come from cells through reproduction. They
come from cells by 'hijacking' normal cells and inserting their
small chemical chains into the cells' DNA or RNA. The cells and all
its organic machines change to function like the virus and
eventually collapse to spread the virus. If that's living, it sure
beats staying inside typing so many hours with a cold.
Viruses are not complex enough to really change their movements or transmissions. They are like cancer in that they are cellular malfunctions, except they transmit to other hosts. They do change slightly, but biologists do not qualify this change as a property of life: they just look for cells.
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