An illustration of the coronavirus. (Centers of Disease Control)
By now, the coronavirus is an all too familiar menace to most of the peoples of the world. How it is spread, the symptoms of the disease, the absolute necessity of taking precautions against it — most people know something about the coronavirus pandemic.
But the question of what a virus actually is, what are its characteristics and where do they come from, this seem to be far less understood by the public.
So here is a primer on this often so destructive agent and its provenance — a look into the complicated, sometimes deadly and yes, fascinating world of viruses.
Viruses are microscopic pathogens that have genetic material (DNA or RNA molecules that encode the structure of the proteins by which the virus acts), that have a a protein coat (which surrounds and protects the genetic material), and in some cases they have an outside envelope of lipids.
Most virus species have virions — the name given to a virus when it is not inside a host cell. They are too small to be seen with an optical microscope because they are one hundredth the size of most bacteria.