The Science of Infectious Viruses

Introduction to the coronavirus

We suggest the following materials to help you understand viruses and pathogenic microbes generally, and the novel coronavirus in particular.

These resources will also aid an understanding on how a virus, not previously dangerous to humans, can become pathogenic through the passage from other species into human populations.

March 20, 2020 article in The Atlantic by Ed Yong.  This succinct and elegant article explains the body of scientific knowledge around coronaviruses, and why the novel SARS-CoV-2 can invoke an extreme immune response – called a cytokine storm – that in some cases kills its human host.

March 16, 2020 webcast by Dr. Divya Chander of Singularity University, now available as a YouTube video; number 2 in a 3-day, on-line event offered by this university (also available). You will learn the basics about viruses, the novel coronavirus in particular, an explanation of testing methodologies, and some downstream therapeutic and vaccine approaches.

Science Talk podcasts offered by Scientific American, with Steve Mirsky.

On March 19th, 2020, the guest expert is Christian Walzer, executive director of global health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, who discusses the risks of the wildlife trade for unpredictable “spill-over events” that can introduce new viruses into humans.  An April 20, 2020 essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books on the same topic by Mark Plotkin is essential and brief reading.

On March 23rd, 2020, the guest is Scientific American contributing editor W. Wayt Gibbs, who is also a prominent science writer. He provides a snapshot of the existing knowledge on the nature of infection by the novel coronavirus. He also shares insights on the status of testing for it, at the time of the interview.

May 11th, 2020 essay by Clemens Grünbühel in the blog of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The author describes the nature of wildlife consumption in Asia, wet markets and the contrasts between subsistence and trophy hunting. Laws forbidding wildlife consumption will not be adequate, though a start. Rather, an ambitious approach taking into account deforestation and involving behaviour change is called for. Here are more details on what the Global Environment Facility is designing as a set of policies and programs. However it is not clear if it will be sufficient.

May 18th, 2020 article in Nature News by Smitri Mallapaty discusses the status of the continuing global investigations into the source of the novel coronavirus. So far, an intermediate animal host has not been found. Bats are considered the primary source, for they comprise a mammalian storehouse of coronaviruses which are not pathogenic for their bat hosts. But the genetic leap required for existing bat coronaviruses to survive in humans is too wide.




Apr 20th, 2020

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