Speaking of Science: What is a virus? | Lifestyles



Virus bound to cell surface receptor

Virus bound to cell surface receptor 



The spread of the Chinese Covid-19 virus throughout the world is having a huge impact on our daily lives. Nearaly 200,000 people have been infected across 150 countries worldwide and in response countries, one after another, are going into lockdown. Just in our own state, restaurants, casinos, schools and workplaces are temporarily shutting down.

While the spread of the virus has been stressful enough, it’s been paralleled by a perhaps even more deadly upsurge of panic and misinformation. Hand sanitizers and other cleaners are flying off shelves in bulk, the public has boycotted Asian restaurants, and perhaps worst of all, many people are refusing to comply with WHO and CDC guidelines of social distancing.

It seems that this pandemic of misinformation could be avoided by stepping back to not only understand the details about Covid-19, but viruses in general. For example, what exactly determines how dangerous a virus is? How does it infect you? Let’s take a look at a few facts about viruses:

First of all, and it may seem strange, viruses are not living things. This is one of the most interesting concepts about viruses. In the last few weeks, thousands of lives have been lost in our world due to something that isn’t technically alive.

One of the best analogies for describing a virus is that it is like a mailing envelope with a letter sealed inside. Instead of being made of paper, the envelope is really composed of protein and the letter is most often DNA. You might recognize this compound as the same material that makes up our own genes. And, just as it does in our own bodies, the virus uses this genetic material as a blueprint to make copies of itself. You can think of the envelope as being made out of microscopic Legos to protect the DNA inside.

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