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Capsid: The outer protein protective shell of a virus, which protects the viral nucleic acid.

Viral Structure

JoVE 10822

Viruses are extraordinarily diverse in shape and size, but they all have several structural features in common. All viruses have a core that contains a DNA- or RNA-based genome. The core is surrounded by a protective coat of proteins called the capsid. The capsid is composed of subunits called capsomeres. The capsid and genome-containing core are together known as the nucleocapsid.

Many criteria are used to classify viruses, including capsid design. Most viruses have icosahedral or helical capsids, although some viruses have developed more complex capsid structures. The icosahedral shape is a 20-sided, quasi-spherical structure. Rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, is icosahedral. Helical (i.e., filamentous or rod-shaped) capsids are thin and linear, resembling cylinders. The nucleic acid genome fits inside the grooves of the helical capsid. Tobacco mosaic virus, a plant pathogen, is a classic example of a helical virus. Some viruses have capsids that are enclosed by an envelope of lipids and proteins outside of the capsid. This viral envelope is not produced by the virus but is acquired from the host’s cell. These envelope molecules protect the virus and mediate interactions with the host’s cells. The viral capsid not only protects the virus’s genome, but it also plays a critical role in interactions with host cells. For i

 Core: Biology

What are Viruses?

JoVE 10821

A virus is a microscopic infectious particle that consists of an RNA or DNA genome enclosed in a protein shell. It is not able to reproduce on its own: it can only make more viruses by entering a cell and using its cellular machinery. When a virus infects a host cell, it removes its protein coat and directs the host’s machinery to transcribe and translate its genetic material. The hijacked cell assembles the replicated components into thousands of viral progeny, which can rupture and kill the host cell. The new viruses then go on to infect more host cells. Viruses can infect different types of cells: bacteria, plants, and animals. Viruses that target bacteria, called bacteriophages (or phages), are very abundant. Current research focuses on phage therapy to treat multidrug-resistant bacterial infections in humans. Viruses that infect cultivated plants are also highly studied since epidemics lead to huge crop and economic losses. Viruses were first discovered in the 19th century when an economically-important crop, the tobacco plant, was plagued by a mysterious disease—later identified as Tobacco mosaic virus. Animal viruses are of great importance both in veterinary research and in medical research. Moreover, viruses underlie many human diseases, ranging from the common cold, chickenpox, and herpes, to more dangerous infection

 Core: Biology

Detection of Bacteriophages in Environmental Samples

JoVE 10190

Source: Laboratories of Dr. Ian Pepper and Dr. Charles Gerba - Arizona University
Demonstrating Author: Alex Wassimi


Viruses are a unique group of biological entities that infect both eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms. They are obligate parasites that have no metabolic capacity, and in order to replicate, rely on host metabolism…

 Environmental Microbiology

Retrovirus Life Cycles

JoVE 10825

Retroviruses have a single-stranded RNA genome that undergoes a special form of replication. Once the retrovirus has entered the host cell, an enzyme called reverse transcriptase synthesizes double-stranded DNA from the retroviral RNA genome. This DNA copy of the genome is then integrated into the host’s genome inside the nucleus via an enzyme called integrase. Consequently, the retroviral genome is transcribed into RNA whenever the host’s genome is transcribed, allowing the retrovirus to replicate. New retroviral RNA is transported to the cytoplasm, where it is translated into proteins that assemble new retroviruses. Particular drugs have been developed to fight retroviral infections. These drugs target specific aspects of the life cycle. One class of antiretroviral drugs, fusion inhibitors, prevents the entry of the retrovirus into the host cell by inhibiting the fusion of the retrovirus with the host cell membrane. Another class of antiretrovirals, reverse transcriptase inhibitors, inhibits the reverse transcriptase enzymes that make DNA copies of the retroviral RNA genome. Reverse transcriptase inhibitors are competitive inhibitors; during the process of reverse transcription, the drug molecules are incorporated into the growing DNA strand instead of the usual DNA bases. Once incorporated, the drug molecules block further progress by the r

 Core: Biology

Lytic Cycle of Bacteriophages

JoVE 10823

Bacteriophages, also known as phages, are specialized viruses that infect bacteria. A key characteristic of phages is their distinctive “head-tail” morphology. A phage begins the infection process (i.e., lytic cycle) by attaching to the outside of a bacterial cell. Attachment is accomplished via proteins in the phage tail that bind to specific receptor proteins on the outer surface of the bacterium. The tail injects the phage’s DNA genome into the bacterial cytoplasm. In the lytic replication cycle, the phage uses the bacterium’s cellular machinery to make proteins that are critical for the phage’s replication and dispersal. Some of these proteins cause the host cell to take in water and burst, or lyse, after phage replication is complete, releasing hundreds of phages that can infect new bacterial cells. Since the early 20th century, researchers have recognized the potential value of lytic bacteriophages in combating bacterial infections in crops, humans, and agricultural animals. Because each type of phage can infect and lyse only specific types of bacteria, phages represent a highly specific form of anti-bacterial treatment. This quality stands in contrast to the familiar antibiotic drugs that we often take for bacterial infections, which are typically broad-spectrum treatments that kill both pathogenic and beneficial bacteria. The w

 Core: Biology
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