Lesson of the Day: ‘Welcome to the Virosphere’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Welcome to the Virosphere’

Find all our Lessons of the Day here.

Featured Article: “Welcome to the Virosphere” by Carl Zimmer

SARS-CoV-2, also known as the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, was isolated and identified by Chinese virologists in January. However, it is only one of 6,828 named species of virus, among thousands, or even trillions, that have yet to be named.

In this lesson you will learn about the history of identifying viruses and how virologists identify and classify viruses today. Then you will participate in a citizen scientist project that involves identifying the different stages of a virus.

What do you know about the structure and transmission of the coronavirus?

Look at the images below from left to right. The first image shows the coronavirus and the second image illustrates what happens as the virus enters a vulnerable cell.

Can you label the rest of the images? Here are some key words you will need to use: viral RNA, viral protein and viral copies.

Hint: The fifth image illustrates a close-up version of the fourth image.

Once you have labeled the images to the best of your ability, check your answers using the original article, “How Coronavirus Hijacks Your Cells.”

As you read the featured article, apply your knowledge of the coronavirus to understand and visualize how other viruses can be identified.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. How do virologists search for new viruses? How do today’s approaches differ from earlier methods of researching viruses?

2. What does the research of Matthew Sullivan, a virologist at Ohio State University, demonstrate about the diversity of viruses in the sea?

3. How did Chinese researchers and virologists isolate and identify the virus that causes Covid-19 earlier this year? How did the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses name the virus?

4. How do viruses infect and affect humans compared to other species?

5. Why is it so hard for virologists to classify viruses?

6. Why did Jens H. Kuhn, the lead virologist at the Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick in Maryland, and his colleagues create the “megataxonomy”? How have other researchers responded to his creation?

Now that you know about the process that virologists undertake to identify and classify viruses, you are going to participate in a citizen scientist project to identify the stages of a virus.

Diamond Light Source is the United Kingdom’s national synchrotron. The synchrotron produces bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines. In 2019, Diamond Light Source began a virus factory and enlisted the participation of the public, as citizen scientists. The first stage of this research is complete; however, you can still participate in the work of citizen scientists to study reoviruses.

According to Diamond Light Source’s Science Scribbler:

Reoviruses belong to a large family of viruses that infect a wide range of animals and plants. Some members of the family cause widespread disease, notably Rotaviruses, which are responsible for serious gastroenteritis. In contrast, reoviruses themselves, whilst they pervasively infect humans, do not typically produce symptoms, indeed they are being trialled as possible anti-cancer agents, since they specifically replicate in many cancer cells activated for division. They are therefore a good starting point to try to understand the life-cycle of this family of viruses.

Now you will identify and classify the four stages of the virus, following the instructions provided. Once you have completed several tasks, you can look at some of the other biology and science-related citizen scientist projects on Zooniverse and try another.