The biomedical animation studio Visual Science created the “most detailed and scientifically accurate” 3D model of the new coronavirus. The illustration, with atomic resolution, is based on recent scientific research on the structure of the virus and on contributions from virologists involved in the studies.
To reach the result, Visual Science used the same structural bioinformatics techniques adopted in research for drug development. The SARS-CoV-2 model is part of the project Viral Park, which has already produced illustrations of HIV, H1N1, ebola, papilloma and zika.
The color scheme follows the pattern used throughout the project. The brilliant ones show proteins encoded by the viral genome. Shades of gray correspond to the structures taken by the virus in the host cell. The studio emphasizes the parasitic and non-autonomous nature of the virus.
Models and visualizations created by Viral Park have received awards from the magazine Science and the National Science Foundation of the United States, in addition to appearing in specialized media references, such as Science, Nature Medicine and Scientific American itself.
Coronavirus particles are pleiomorphic, that is, the shape of the virus (virus outside the host cell) can vary. However, many particles are oval or practically spherical, with diameters between 50 and 150 nanometers – equivalent to one thousandth of the width of the human hair.
The particle morphology in the 3D model is based on electron microscopic images of the SARS-CoV virus, very similar to what is reported from the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Located on the surface of the virion, spine-shaped proteins form quarterly structures that mix with the host cell and initiate infection.
Each spine-shaped glycoprotein monomer consists of three parts: S1, at the top, which interacts with the host cell receptor, as opposed to S2 and S2 ‘, which mediate the mixture of the virion with the cell membranes.
See the Visual Science animation in more detail on the shape of the new coronavirus: