• The virus seen in video is non-infectious lentivirus with outer layer of vesicular stomatitis virus
  • In reality, the infectious vesicular stomatitis virus causes mild fevers in humans and animals
  • The research team developed a new method called 3D Tracking and Imaging Microscopy

Have you ever wondered how a virus attacks human cells? An amazing real-time 3D footage captured by scientists shows just that.

Researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, have used a novel microscopic technique that helped them visualize a virus navigating through human intestinal cells. The findings were published in the journal Nature Methods.

"Sometimes when I present this work people ask, 'Is this a video game or a simulation?'" lead author, Courtney Johnson, a postdoctoral associate at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said in a statement. "No, this is something that came from a real microscope."

The video, part of Johnson's Ph.D. thesis, was captured using two microscopes. It shows a virus purple in color, and the human intestinal cells green in color. The video captures the ephemeral time of a virus on the verge of attacking and entering a cell.

This is no mean feat. As Johnson explained, capturing such footage is tantamount to "trying to take a picture of a person standing in front of a skyscraper. You can't get the whole skyscraper and see the details of the person in front of it with one picture."

There are two factors to bear in mind. First, viruses are a lot faster outside a host- about two to three times faster. Second, the viruses are diminishingly small compared to a cell.

"That's why this is such a hard problem to study," Johnson said.

The virus seen in the video is a non-infectious lentivirus with the outer cover of a vesicular stomatitis virus, according to LiveScience.

Comparing the virus infection to a burglary, Johnson said the footage shows "the part where the burglar has not broken the window yet."

The research team developed a new method called 3D Tracking and Imaging Microscopy (3D-TrIm) where two microscopes are used for different purposes. One microscope "locks" onto the virus and sweeps a laser across it to keep track of its position every millionth of a second. The other one does 3D imaging of the surrounding cells.

The overall effect is similar to navigating with Google Maps- it captures both your current driving location as well as the features of the surrounding terrain, and landmarks, but in 3D, co-author, Kevin Welsher, an assistant chemistry professor at Duke University, said.

Humans encounter millions of viruses regularly. While most of them are harmless, some can seriously affect health and cause diseases.

The viruses most talked about right now are the ones that cause RSV and flu. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) confirmed that a five-year-old child had died from both RSV and the flu Monday.

The death marks the first flu and RSV death of a child under five years this winter season, the agency noted, adding that young children are "most vulnerable" to RSV and flu complications "especially if they have underlying medical conditions or were born premature."

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