Disclaimer: I am not a physician or a virologist. I have a PhD in cell and molecular biology. I did research in medical schools and was part of a clinical trial in a biopharma company. I have grown several viruses, but none in the coronavirus family. I am not associated with any group making vaccines to SARS-CoV-2. I have performed most of the laboratory tests described in this blog that are also used to detect virus and antibodies. I have made monoclonal antibodies, but not for COVID.
What are coronaviruses? There are seven coronaviruses that cause human respiratory infections. Four cause the common cold. In 2002, the world saw three new deadly viruses emerge in this family. The first was named SARS-CoV. This stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus. Its disease is SARS. The second was named MERS-CoV for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, causing MERS. Now we have the third that has caused a pandemic. It is named SARS-CoV-2 because it is a variant of the first one. This virus causes the disease named COVID-19. Because it is cumbersome to write/read all of this each time, I will refer to the pandemic virus as this virus and use COVID for the disease.
What Does This Virus Look Like on the OUTSIDE? The OUTSIDE of the virus has been seen on TV and in lots of publications. It is round and has lots of knobs on it. The colors are not real. The red represents the outside membrane of the virus and the blue/green are proteins named Spike. Spike is very essential for the virus to enter your cells and is used to construct testing for the virus.This fantastic rendering of the virus was done by Fusion Medical Animation.
How large is This Virus? It is tiny. You could put at least eight hundred of these viruses side by side across a single human hair.
How does This Virus Grow? NO VIRUS IS ALIVE. By itself, it cannot grow. Perhaps we should say it is viable or has the potential to grow. Seeds are not alive but grow into plants. Dried brine shrimp eggs hatch when you drop them into water. Tiny shrimp are swimming in minutes.
Every virus needs the correct host to let it grow again. For animals, it must be the right species. Swine flu virus doesn’t need a horse—it needs a pig. This virus needs a human. Once it finds you, it still needs the right cell. This virus on your hand will not hurt you. But if it lands on mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, or mouth, it is off to the races. That is why health care workers use face shields or goggles/glasses with side protection. Eventually the virus makes its way to your lungs. That is where it finds lung cells, become alive and grows.
What Does This Virus Look Like on the INSIDE? You have DNA for genetic information. You have Three Billion DNA bases that give you Thirty Thousand genes. You are the smartest and you have almost the most genes on the planet. You DNA is protected inside a nucleus. When your cell needs information, it makes a copy called a messenger RNA (mRNA) and sends that outside the nucleus to do the work. It is like blueprints for a house. The architectural copy has everything, but the electrician copy concentrates on those jobs.
This virus does not have DNA, it uses RNA as its base of information. Get ready to feel superior again: this virus has only four genes and thirty thousand DNA bases. However, your cell obeys this tiny virus like it is a hijacker with a gun to your head. RNA viruses are also called Retroviruses, not retro like an avocado green kitchen, but because they go backwards for genetic information.
You read above that your DNA makes mRNA and proteins are made from that. This virus has RNA, but reverses the process and makes DNA from it. It is crazy. You can’t do that. This virus has a unique enzyme called reverse transcriptase, RT. We will see it is a game changer. The RNA is embedded in a structure called Nucleoprotein to keep it safe; RT floats free.
Now you know the parts of this virus.
Next Post: how does the virus enter your cells and what happens next?