What Is A Virus?

29 Mar, 2020 | Dr. Malik | No Comments

What Is A Virus?

I remember back in 2005 I took a virology class at the University of Manitoba, and it was during the first lecture the professor said something that has always remained with me. He said that viruses can not be classified as living or dead given their simplistic structure. I found this statement to be profound, as a microbe so simplistic it cannot be considered alive can cause so much damage to its host. It almost sounded surreal. 

Viruses were first discovered in 1898, and since then nearly 5000 species have been discovered. The coronavirus is a family of viruses that causes diseases in humans and birds. Coronaviruses have been responsible for many conditions, from common colds to MERS, SARS and now COVID19.

Viruses comprise of a very simplistic structure, containing a small strand of genetic material surrounded by a capsule, for example below is a picture of the Covid19 virus:


The virus itself is quite useless, it cannot do much on its own. It’s true potential is unleashed when it infects a suitable host. Once a host is found, the virus discards its outer capsule and causes the host’s cell to copy the virus’s own genetic material. This genetic material help produce more virus, and this cycle repeats itself as shown below:



Given how simplistic the anatomy of a virus is, it is quite incredible how much havoc Covid19 is currently causing around the world. One of nature’s most simplistic creations, that cannot be fully classified as living has brought one of its most advanced species to a standstill. 

To illustrate this point further, here is a picture of a typical human cell:



















Our cells contain genetic information with approximately 3 billion base pairs, the number of base pairs in Covid19 is only 30,000. But given Covid19’s simplistic structure it is more susceptible to damage. 

Hand washing for twenty seconds can allow enough time for the soap molecules to destroy the outer capsule of the virus. Hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes can have the same effect. The virus can live on surfaces for up-to 72 hours, which makes wiping down and disinfecting surfaces extremely important. 


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