Spreading factual information? Now there's a contagion the Academy can get behind. Learn more about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) with this collection of factoids and vocabulary terms vetted by the Academy's Chief of Science, Dr. Shannon Bennett

Did you know?

The ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 circulates in bats.
Luckily for these flying mammals, they don’t seem to get sick with it—or any other virus they carry. Scientists are currently trying to figure out why.

Coronaviruses are named after their “crowns.”
Sporting spike-like proteins on their surfaces, coronaviruses bear a resemblance to the sun’s corona, which is the Latin word for “crown.”

Soap is a killer cleaner.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus particle is enveloped by a fat-based layer, which is why soap—which breaks up fat molecules so they can be washed away—is so good at killing it. No hot water necessary!

One sneeze can contain up to 40,000 droplets.1
Droplets range from about 72 to 386 micrometers (a micrometer, abbreviated as μm, is one millionth of a meter) in diameter—just in case you needed another 40,000 reasons to sneeze into your elbow.,2

A SARS-CoV-2 virus particle is about 100 nm in diameter.3
A nanometer, abbreviated as nm, is one billionth of a meter. That means you could fit about 15,000 virus particles onto the head of a pin!

The severity of COVID-19 depends on the dose.
While scientists aren’t sure how many individual virus particles, or “virions,” it takes to make you sick, it’s clear that the more of them you’re exposed to, the greater your risk of infection.

Non-mammals are at low risk for COVID-19.
While this is great news for the 900+ fish, bird, reptile, amphibian, and insect species at the Academy, more research is needed to better understand how the disease affects our mammalian friends.

The Academy has a microbiology department!
Founded in 2011, the newest addition to the Academy’s Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability has collections of thousands of specimens of viruses and bacteria from around the world.

There’s a virologist in the house.
The Academy’s Chief of Science, Dr. Shannon Bennett, was inspired to study infectious diseases after contracting malaria, dysentery, and a Staphylococcus infection in Liberia early in her career.

Viruses have a key.
Viruses have proteins projecting off their surfaces that bind specifically to receptors on the surface of the host cell, like a key to a lock: open the door, enter the cell, infect, reproduce, repeat.

SARS-CoV-2 has a head start on its hosts.
The virus is able to quickly replicate itself inside our cells thanks to its RNA-based genome. DNA-based life, however, has to copy its genes to RNA before it can build proteins.4


Virology vocab

  • While viruses and bacteria are both pathogens that can cause disease, viruses are dependent on host cells to copy their genes while bacteria have all the “machinery” to self-replicate.
  • SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes COVID-19; it’s short for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.” COVID-19 is short for “coronavirus disease 2019.”
  • A “cytokine storm” occurs when our immune system sends too many cytokines (a type of protein) to fight an infection. The inflammation that results is what can make you really sick, not necessarily the virus itself.5
  • A fomite is a technical term for an object or material likely to carry infection. While it’s still unknown if fomites are major COVID-19 culprits, it’s a mighty good idea to wash your hands often.