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Simply Scientific: Viruses

by Jad Abukasm February 4, 2020
Simply Scientific: Viruses

The Coronavirus is a family of viruses that produce symptoms which can range from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

With the recent outbreak around the world originating in Wuhan, China, the World Health Organization (WHO) began working on ways to minimize its spread. But how exactly does this virus function?

Viruses are interesting in that they are both considered living and non-living things, according to different experts. Why? Because they are not made of cells, but they have the interesting ability to replicate.

Viruses are shaped like spiky tennis balls. The “body” is called a virion with proteins (spikes) on its surface that dictate how the virus will affect someone. Depending on the shape of the spikes, the viruses can connect to cells from different parts of the body. In the case of the Coronavirus, it attaches itself to lung cells––resulting in pneumonia-like symptoms.

When this happens, the virus binds itself to receptors on the cells and hijacks them to override their DNA reproduction process. The virus sends in its genetic information to be duplicated by the cell’s ribosomes––which are the DNA’s reproductive machines. The cell becomes a reproductive hub for the virus.

Once the new virus  is big enough, it begins exiting the cell’s membrane, usually killing its host in the process. Its next destination? Other cells to replicate again and again. Wonderful! You’re now a virus- making organism.

But your body is not dumb. Au contraire, when your cells start dying and degrading, your body immediately senses this and triggers an immune response. Ever heard of a fever, runny nose, cough, chills? Those are not actually triggered by the virus, but in fact your body’s response to its invader! Now you can blame your own body for having to drink gross tasting cough syrup.

Eventually you get over your symptoms and get rid of the virus. However, it is too soon to say what will happen with the Coronavirus as the WHO is still researching the outbreak. For more information on how to protect yourself against the Coronavirus, visit the WHO website.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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