An electron microscopic image of the 2019 novel coronavirus grown in cells at The University of Hong Kong. Thin-section electron micrographs of the novel coronavirus show part of an infected cell, grown in a culture, with virus particles being released from the cell’s surface. (The University of Hong Kong)
When the word “virus” first came into use, it was as a “poison” and “a very small disease-causing agent.” While the presence of viruses was theorized earlier, they were not fully identified until the 1890s.
So from their earliest discovery, viruses were synonymous with disease and generally of the ghastly epidemic type of disease we now see with coronavirus. Few words carry such a negative punch.
Without in anyway minimizing the toll of viruses on humans (and apparently all other living things,) men and women who study viruses know that this association with disease is far too restrictive and misses much of what viruses do. It’s perhaps not something to argue while a viral pandemic is raging, but that’s when the focus on viruses is most intense.
Here, then, is a broader looks at what viruses do and have done — how they inflict pandemics but also have introduced ...