The coronavirus, a parasite, can’t multiply on its own. It needs to hijack a cell to reproduce by the thousands.
Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), posted an image on Tuesday of newly replicated coronaviruses emerging from an infected cell.
“This picture is quite literally a snapshot of viral shedding, a process in which viral particles are released from a dying cell,” Collins wrote on the NIH Director’s Blog. “This image gives us a window into how devastatingly effective SARS-CoV-2 appears to be at co-opting a host’s cellular machinery: Just one infected cell is capable of releasing thousands of new virus particles that can, in turn, be transmitted to others.”
In the colorized image, the “orange-brown folds and protrusions” are the surface of a primate kidney cell that had been infected with coronavirus, explained Francis. The blue particles are the new viruses, ready to infect other cells.
“As you might imagine, to see the moment that viruses emerge from an infected cell, you have to get the timing just right,” Francis wrote.
Elizabeth Fischer, head of the Electron Microscopy Unit at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, an NIH lab, snapped the image. Viruses are much too tiny to be seen with normal microscopes, so an electron microscope beams electrons onto profoundly small samples. The particles bounce off, capturing the topography of microbes like viruses and cells.
“Just one infected cell is capable of releasing thousands of new virus particles”
With an infectious disease like the new coronavirus, which spreads easily through gathered people, the U.S. isn’t prepared to resume usual life, including reopening many businesses and public places, without enhanced protections for workers.
“We’re not anywhere near a situation where you could claim that you can, with any credibility, send people back en masse now,” Michael Gusmano, a health policy expert at the Rutgers School of Public Health, told Mashable last week.