Feb 17, 2009

What Does a Virus Look Like?

Viruses are small. really small, like hundreds of times smaller than bacteria, which are themselves microscopic. Viruses have been seen with scanning microscopes, but until now no one had actually mapped the protective outer shell of a virus, called a "capsid." The good folks at Rice University have spent 3 years perfecting their equipment and analyzing viruses, and have accomplished a wondrous feat. They have actually managed to use hundreds of high-energy X-Ray diffraction images to create an image which perfectly portrays the exact location of each of the 5 MILLION atoms that make up this virus' capsid. Here is the image.

Though there are more than 5,000 known viruses, including whole families
that are marked by wide variations in genetic payload and other characteristics,
most of them use either a helical or a spherical capsid.
"Spherical viruses like this have symmetry like a soccer ball or geodesic dome," Pan said. "The whole capsid contains exactly 120 copies of a single protein." ( Science Daily )

The blue area is the capsid, with each blue dot corresponding to an individual atom, and the red and yellow areas are the DNA payload that the viruses inject into the cells of it's host to reproduce itself. It is truly mind-boggling how wonderful our scientist's technical equipment can be, and what it can show us about the natural world around us. -FUPPETS- can't get enough.

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