Where did the red and gray coronavirus image come from and why does it look like that?

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This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

We’ve all seen it, the red and white sphere image above that represents the coronavirus.

But what does this symbol really mean?

First and foremost – it’s an image from the CDC. It was created to represent the virus, but, in reality, this is what the coronavirus looks like under an electron microscope.

MERS-CoV particles as seen by negative stain electron microscopy. Virions contain characteristic club-like projections emanating from the viral membrane.
Source: Cynthia Goldsmith/Maureen Metcalfe/Azaibi Tamin

Getting back to the CDC graphic – the little red nodules are proteins, and the virus is the genetic material in a protein casing.

That’s what the gray is – genetic material.

Coronavirus is an RNA virus.
RNA is a messenger, carrying instructions from DNA for controlling the merging of proteins.

Viruses reproduce by injecting their genetic material into a host cell.

That forces the host cell to make copies of the virus, rather than the cell performing its normal function. Thus the reason viruses are so easily spread.

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