Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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COVID in Sight

SARS-CoV-2 infecting cells imaged by helium ion microscopy

27 February 2021

COVID in Sight

The world’s focus is on coronavirus, but it’s an invisible enemy - impossible to see even with most microscopes. Seeing SARS-CoV-2 (the virus behind COVID-19) in action can reveal clues about how it works and how to fight it. So far, most attempts to observe its nefarious behaviour have been with scanning electron microscopes, which scan surfaces with a beam of electrons to produce an image. However, this approach requires samples to be first coated in a conductive material like gold, which can interfere with the structure of the subjects. Now a team has used helium ion microscopy to image the virus (artificially coloured blue) interacting with infected monkey kidney cells. This technique sidesteps the need for a coating, and provides detailed images which should reveal how the virus attaches to cells. This will both highlight natural defence mechanisms in action and guide new approaches for treatment.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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