What is the COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2 virus? Compared to most threats we encounter, the virus is small and simple. It doesn’t have sex, possess limbs or gills, or fill its lungs with air on a hill top and shout “It’s great to be alive!”. So is the virus alive, or just an organic robot? We talk of ‘killing’ the virus by washing our hands or using disinfectants, which means most of us think of it as a living creature of some sort. Whether we classify it as the ‘living’ or the ‘undead’, it is still a parasite that steals into our cells and helps itself to our enzymes and cell materials to make thousands of near-perfect copies of itself that go on to infect other cells in our bodies.
For the last few months I have been obsessively reading each major scientific discovery about the new SARS-CoV-2 virus, and delving into its close relatives that caused earlier epidemics of ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome’ (SARS). During the COVID-19 pandemic it has been difficult to stay asleep, and I wake wondering how the virus does this and that … then grab my iPad to search for the answer. Surprisingly, this research provides me with a lot of comfort. The more I get to know the inner workings of this terrible machine, the better I’m able to break it down to its basic parts. The more I research, the more clearly I can see the virus in my mind’s eye, and the more clearly I can see possible targets for treatment interventions and routes to vaccines.