Ten cool facts about viruses

facts1. Some parasitic wasps lay eggs in caterpillars, where they mature into adult wasps. The wasp eggs contain a virus, encoded in the wasp genome, which prevents the caterpillar from rejecting the eggs.

2. There are a million virus particles per milliliter of seawater €“ for a global total of 1030 virions! Lined up end to end, they would stretch 200 million light years into space.

3. The genetic information of viruses can be DNA or RNA; single or double stranded; one molecule or in pieces.

4. The name virus was coined from the Latin word meaning slimy liquid or poison.

5. Walter Reed discovered the first human virus, yellow fever virus, in 1901.

6. Viruses are not alive €“ they are inanimate complex organic matter. They lack any form of energy, carbon metabolism, and cannot replicate or evolve. Viruses are reproduced and evolve only within cells.

7. Over 1016 human immunodeficiency virus genomes are produced daily on the entire planet. As a consequence, thousands of viral mutants arise by chance every day that are resistant to every combination of antiviral compounds in use or in development.

8. The first human influenza virus was isolated in 1933. In 2005, the 1918 pandemic influenza virus strain was constructed from nucleic acid sequence obtained from victims of the disease.

9. The biggest known viruses are mimiviruses, which are 400 nanometers (0.0004 millimeters) in diameter. The viral genome is 1,200,000 nucleotides in length and codes for over 900 proteins.

10. The smallest known viruses are circoviruses, which are 20 nanometers (0.00002 millimeters) in diameter. The viral genome is 1,700 nucleotides in length and codes for two proteins.

Bonus fact: The HIV-1 genome, which is about 10,000 nucleotides long, can exist as 106020 different sequences. To put this number in perspective, there are 1011 stars in the Milky Way galaxy and 1080 protons in the universe.

I made up this list a few weeks ago in response to a request from a journalist. The final version, shortened and re-ordered by an editor, was published online at ColumbiaNews.

118 thoughts on “Ten cool facts about viruses”

  1. if you read #6 carefully it identifies that viruses cannot replicate/evolve independently – they can replicate/mutate/evolve but they depend on cellular machinery (i.e ribosomes) which they lack. In order to be classified as living cellular  replication must occur independently.

  2. Markburrow53

    they are right but i think the usage of words tend to make them sound wrong. Viruses of course do not replicate on their own except when they get inside a host and they then use the host metabolic machinery to replicate. Viruses are also non-living and inanimate and this is source of current debates in the scientific society. Then about the figure for the number of HIV genomes, this could also be right.

  3. thank u prof…actually the viruses are the most fascinating organisms in the whole world…among one of the wonders of ALMIGHTY ALLAH….thier stratigies to replicate in the host and each virus has its own different stratigy is an example for all of us that there is someone who has made such amazing organisms and planned thier life styles not other than ALMIGHTY ALLAH…..i hv 2 cources of viro in my BS ….and they are marvo! thanku so mch  PROF really 

  4. Wow, these facts are impressive. I’m working on a short video about viruses and I’m trying to make it as interesting as possible. I think this information is great and I want to ask for permission to use it. I would give credit to you and link to this site.
    Thank you.

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  9. and i do give ******************************************************************************************************************************************** (laughs)

  10. The fact about why viruses aren’t alive has an error. Viruses can evolve. That is why we need a new vaccine for them every year. It also says so in my biology book.

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