Victoria Navas Via-Dufresne
Staff Writer

Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and animal cells. In fact they are so small you would need a special electron microscope to be able to visualize them. While they can be thought as living beings, they do not meet all the requirements to be considered alive.
Viruses contain nucleic acids (either DNA or RNA) that contain information necessary for them to work, as well as a protein coating that protects that information and a lipid membrane (found in some viruses like influenza) to offer extra protection. A virus’ shape and complexity can vary.
Our cells use enzymes to perform chemical reactions, but viruses only have a few that serve as information storage, and thus need a host cell in order to grow and reproduce. If a virus is not contained in a host cell, then it is not functioning but simply waiting for a host to ‘wake’ it. Once they enter a cell, they can be considered alive.
Viruses can be inhaled by our noses or mouths, or can be absorbed by our skin. Once inside they will find a host cell and settle to reproduce. Cold and flu viruses will settle in our respiratory or digestive systems, while immunodeficiency viruses will attack our immune system, like the HIV virus.
No matter what cell they are attacking, viruses all go through the lytic cycle. The virus particles first attach to host cells and release genetic instructions that will be adopted by the cells. This genetic information will affect enzymes in the cells that will create more virus particles. These particles will then assemble into new viruses and will be released from the cell to go infect more.
Viruses use their protein coating to recognize the proper host cells to attach to. The viruses having a lipid membrane will be easily absorbed by the cell since cells’ membranes are primarily made of lipids. The viruses that enter the cell can take control of the enzymes completely to concentrate on viral reproduction.
Viruses that simply attach will release the genetic information through the membrane, while the ones absorbed by the cell will have an easier time to release their contents.

Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 10 on February 26th, 2020