Research

Inside a Coronavirus Aerosol

A glimpse inside a digital aerosol with a single coronavirus (purple) and its spike proteins (blue), surrounded by mucins (red), surfactants (green), and deep lung fluid (orange).

This is a glimpse inside a tiny aerosol droplet with a single SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus inside it. The numerical simulation required a team of 50 scientists, 1.3 billion atoms, and the second most powerful supercomputer in the world. By simulating every atom, the researchers hope to observe what happens to a coronavirus in these micron-sized, long-lasting droplets. Does the virus survive? How do variants fare?

Their simulation shows that the positive charge of the coronavirus’s spike proteins helps attract mucins that shield the virus and protect it from the droplet interface where evaporation could destroy it. Variants like Delta and Omicron have even more positive charge to their spike proteins, giving themselves a better cloak of mucins and potentially making them all the more infectious. Definitely check out the full New York Times write-up for more spectacular visualizations from the work. (Image and research credit: R. Amaro et al.; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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