On Thursday (Feb. 13), the Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases revealed some of the first images of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that has sickened over 60,000 people and killed another 1,370 in the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China.
Viruses are teeny-tiny infectious blobs that are made up of either DNA or RNA wrapped up inside a protein coat. They are too small to be seen by a typical light microscope.
Researchers at RML imaged samples of the virus and cells taken from a U.S. patient infected with COVID-19 (the new name for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2) using two different kinds of high-resolution microscopes — the scanning electron microscope and the transmission electron microscope. Both use a focused beam of electrons rather than a beam of light to image samples. (The color is added later to the images.)
The SARS-COV-2 virus looks similar to the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which emerged in 2012, and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which emerged in 2002, according to a statement.
That's because all three of these viruses are in the same family of "coronaviruses," which are named for their crown-like appearance (most apparent in the transmission electron image). The word "corona" in Latin means "crown."
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Originally published on Live Science.
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Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.