Where does the word restoration come from?

The coronaviruses look something like this: Image: imago images / ZUMA Press

Why are we actually talking about "coronaviruses"?

The word "Corona" is currently on everyone's lips. But how did the virus get this particular name?

The official name for the virus that is currently stalling the world is SARS-CoV-2. Or in the written version: "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2", in German: "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2".

Unsurprisingly, to be honest, hardly anyone uses that name. Because "coronavirus" can be said much faster and easier. In his podcast "Kekulé's Corona Compass", the virologist Alexander Kekulé explained how the virus got this nickname in the first place.

Spoiler: It's surprisingly simple.

Prickly surface

The coronavirus is called "Corona" because of its appearance. When viewed under an electron microscope, what are known as "spikes" can be discovered on the surface - small bumps that look like points. Or like a crown that is called "Corona" in Latin. In addition, the surface of the virus is often compared to the corona, the sun's halo. And this is how the coronavirus got its special name.

This is what coronaviruses look like under the microscope Image: imago images / IMAGE POINT FR - LPN

In this picture you can see the ring of spikes around the spherical membrane. In the 3D model below, it can be seen that the virus is occupied with them everywhere.

These spikes are not used to visually distinguish themselves from other viruses. Instead, they serve two important functions.

A 3D model of the virus Image: imago images / ZUMA Wire

The spikes, or peplones, as the scientific name for them is, are Processes of the virus envelope in which various membrane proteins are stored.

Little virus science

Before we explain in more detail what exactly is the job of the Peplones, it makes sense to take another step back and look at the general structure of a virus. Anyone who paid close attention in biology class back then already knows this. For everyone else, the short summary:

This is what it looks like when the coronavirus has been reproduced in a cell Image: imago images / IMAGE POINT

Viruses do not have their own metabolism, which is why they need a host cell, such as a human cell, to replicate. Outside of this host cell one does not speak directly of a "virus". The particle is called "Virion". It consists only of a virus envelope and DNA or RNA (in the case of the coronavirus, it is RNA). The goal of these virions is to infect a host cell and thereby use the cell's metabolism to reproduce its own DNA or RNA.

So far, so good, but how do the eponymous spikes come into play?

Docking stations

The spikes play a key role in ensuring that the virion can infect the host cell. They consist of proteins that make it possible to dock onto a cell and allow the own membrane and the cell wall to fuse. This is how the virion penetrates the cell and it is infected. In short: without the spikes, the virus would not be able to infect cells or reproduce.

This ends our little biology lesson for in between. The next time you talk to your friends on Skype, you can not only Make an impression because you know where the name "Coronavirus" comes from, but you can even explain how the virus works.

By the way: no virus likes washing hands. It doesn't matter whether they have spikes or not. So lather up and hum "Happy Birthday" twice ...

(ks)

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