They look like man-made bullets and these naturally-occurring viruses can be just as deadly. Vesicular stomatitis (pictured) belongs to a family of viruses called rhabdoviruses which self-assemble, forming round-tipped ‘shells’ around a payload of viral material. Colliding with a vulnerable target cell, these shells burst open, rearranging to protect and stabilise the viral material as it leaks out. Often 150,000 times smaller than a 9mm bullet, rhabdoviruses can quickly replicate and shoot from cell to cell to spread their infection. They do the most immediate damage, however, when lodged deep within a tissue. A bite from an infected dog might take viral ‘bullets’ loaded with Rabies, another rhabdovirus, deep into a muscle, far away from our immune defences and, unless treated quickly, nearly always fatal.
Written by John Ankers
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