Viruses technically aren’t alive at all, but exist by hijacking machinery in their host’s cells to replicate and spread. To get a better idea of how this works, here a delicate viral particle is frozen in time as it emerges from an infected human cell. Electrons blasted at different angles bounce and deflect off bits of the virus – leaving patterns which are reconstructed into a detailed 3D view of its architecture. This technique, called cryo-electron tomography, highlights 'snakes' of protein attached to the virus’ genetic material (artificially coloured orange, each 10 million times smaller than a python), and prickly glycoproteins on the outside of the membrane (one highlighted in cyan). These and other details help researchers investigate the traits measles has in common with parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – common causes of respiratory illnesses – as a step towards breaking them apart.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.