virus | Learn Science at Scitable
virus is an infectious agent that can only replicate within a host organism.
Viruses can infect a variety of living organisms, including bacteria, plants,
and animals. Viruses are so small that a microscope is necessary to visualize
them, and they have a very simple structure. When a virus particle is
independent from its host, it consists of a viral genome, or genetic material,
contained within a protein shell called a capsid. In some viruses, the protein
shell is enclosed in a membrane called an envelope. Viral genomes are very
diverse, since they can be DNA or RNA, single- or double-stranded, linear or
circular, and vary in length and in the number of DNA or RNA molecules.
viral replication process begins when a virus infects its host by attaching to
the host cell and penetrating the cell wall or membrane. The virus’s genome is
uncoated from the protein and injected into the host cell. Then the viral
genome hijacks the host cell’s machinery, forcing it to replicate the viral
genome and produce viral proteins to make new capsids. Next, the viral
particles are assembled into new viruses. The new viruses burst out of the host
cell during a process called lysis, which kills the host cell. Some viruses
take a portion of the host’s membrane during the lysis process to form an
envelope around the capsid.
Following viral replication, the new viruses may go
on to infect new hosts. Many viruses cause diseases in humans, such as
influenza, chicken pox, AIDS, the common cold, and rabies. The primary way to
prevent viral infections is vaccination, which administers a vaccine made of
inactive viral particles to an unaffected individual, in order to increase the individual’s
immunity to the disease.