This Is What The New Coronavirus Looks Like Under A Microscope

COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), has already claimed the lives of over 1,770 people. NAIAD-RML

Katy Pallister 17 Feb 2020, 11:35

We’ve all heard about it, and now we can see it. Images of the newly named virus SARS-CoV-2 (previously called 2019-nCoV), the cause of the deadly COVID-19 disease, have been released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Rocky Mountain Laboratories (NIAID RML).

Scanning and transmission electron microscopes were used to look at a sample of the virus from a US patient, provided by RML investigator Dr Emmie de Wit. The microscopes work by focusing a beam of electrons onto the sample, and then detect either the reflected electrons (scanning) or those electrons that have passed through (transmission) to create an image. After microscopist Elizabeth Fischer produced the images, the RML visual medical arts office digitally colorized them.

From a scanning electron microscope, this image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) emerging from the surface of cells (pink), cultured in the lab. NIAID-RML

As of today, February 17, the death toll from COVID-19 stands at 1,775, over 1,000 more deaths than from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003.

According to NIAID the “genetically close” SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which emerged in 2012), do not look much different to the images of the novel coronavirus. “The spikes on the surface of coronaviruses give this virus family its name – corona, which is Latin for “crown,” NIAID said. Therefore almost all coronaviruses will carry this distinctive feature.

The spikes on the surface of the novel coronavirus is common amongst strains in the same virus family, such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. NIAID-RML

After reports of COVID-19 cases "stabilizing" earlier this week, the trend has not continued. The World Health Organization (WHO), have said that the increase of reported cases is “largely down to a change in how cases are being diagnosed and reported.”

They refer to changes last week in the Hubei province, where the virus originated. Now “clinical cases”, where patients exhibit all the symptoms of the coronavirus, including fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, but have not been confirmed by laboratory tests, are included in the overall count.

Last week, a London-based began testing a new coronavirus vaccine on mice, whilst Hong Kong officials investigated whether the disease can spread via ventilation systems.

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