The intruder stalks his price with stealth and precision, preparing to pierce the armor of his prey. Once inside, the aggressor forces its host to produce more intruders and then causes it to explode, spewing out a multitude of invaders that can continue their rampage on a larger scale.
The drama, depicted in a microscopic video of SARS-CoV-2 infecting brain cells in bats, provides a window into how the pathogen turns cells into virus factories before causing host cell death.
The video was produced by Sophie-Marie Aicher and Delphine Planas, virologists at the Institut Pasteur in Paris who earned an honorable mention at a microscope. video contest sponsored by Nikon, the photography company.
Filmed for 48 hours with an image recorded every 10 minutes, the footage shows a series of bat brain cells, which appear as gray spots, interspersed with red dots, which are cells that die after being infected with the virus. The infected cells fuse with neighboring cells to form larger masses and, towards the end of the video, explode, signaling their disappearance.
Ms Aicher, who specializes in zoonotic diseases, those that can be transmitted from animals to humans, said that this infectious monster was the same in bats and humans, with one important distinction: bats don’t eventually get sick.
In humans, the coronavirus can evade detection and cause further damage, in part by preventing infected cells from alerting the immune system to the presence of invaders. But its special power is the ability to force host cells to fuse with neighboring cells, a process known as syncytia that allows the coronavirus to go undetected while replicating.
“Every time the virus has to leave the cell, it runs the risk of being detected, so if it can go directly from one cell to another, it can work much faster,” Aicher said.
He said he hoped the video would help demystify the virus and make it easier for people to understand and appreciate this nemesis who has turned billions of lives upside down.
“It is important to help people get past the scientific jargon to understand that this is a very sophisticated and intelligent virus that is well adapted to making humans sick,” he said.