Unit 1

Virus structure and function in the context of SARS-CoV-2

This is a new curriculum. We are refining the materials and teaching support according to teacher feedback. If you have any questions or comments, please use the contact form on the Get Help page and we will respond promptly. Thanks for your patience and understanding!

Lesson 1.1

An introduction to viruses

This lesson introduces the basic characteristics of viruses and the features of SARS-CoV-2 that are important for how it causes disease.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of the lesson, you will be able to…

  • Explain both sides of the debate about whether viruses are alive
  • Describe the different characteristics of non-enveloped and enveloped viruses.
  • Explain how SARS-CoV-2 infects cells using the specific structural features of the virus.

1.11 What is a Pathogen? (13 slides)

Pandemics, such as the current one causing COVID-19 (Coronavirus Infectious Disease- 2019), are caused by pathogens. You’ll start by investigating what exactly pathogens are and explore the debate about whether viruses are living or non-living.

1.12-1.13 How do viruses behave like parasites of living organisms? (13 slides)

In this section, you’ll explore how viruses can behave like cellular parasites. You’ll calculate how big they are compared with eukaryotic (plant and animal) and prokaryotic (bacterial) cells. You will also become familiar with what structures they have that permit them to get inside cells and take them over.

1.14-1.16 How does SARS-CoV-2 fit in? (11 slides)
In this section, you’ll focus on how SARS-CoV-2 behaves as a parasite, and in particular, on the important interaction between its envelope and the host cell that permits it to slip inside its host cells. You’ll also make up a hand-washing song about SARS-CoV-2.

1.17 Vocab review

1.18 Apply your new knowledge!
Read the following news article about how soap affects the SARS-CoV-2 envelope and answer the questions on your worksheet.
Link here.


1.18 Reading worksheet

Lesson 1.2

How Viruses Hijack Host Cells

This lesson explores how SARS-CoV-2 hijacks cells and makes them into a virus factory. It focuses on the errors SARS-CoV-2 makes as it replicates. These errors (mutations) are a powerful tool that allow us to investigate SARS-CoV-2 in many contexts, as we will see later.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of the lesson, you will be able to…

  • Explain how enveloped viruses infect host cells. In particular, you will be able to explain how SARS-CoV-2, an RNA virus, infects a host cell.
  • Interpret how mutations occur and how they can affect protein function.
  • Distinguish between point mutations and recombination.
  • Explain how SARS-CoV-2 corrects errors in replication.

1.21 Transcription and Translation (2 slides)

First, a quick review of how cells use DNA to make RNA and proteins, using a web interactive. Make sure you understand these processes well!

1.22 How do viruses hijack host cells? (13 slides)

How viruses hijack cells depends on whether their genome is DNA or RNA. SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, so in this section, you’ll focus on how SARS-CoV-2 replicates inside a cell after infection.

1.23 Errors in Replication (25 slides)

Every time SARS-CoV-2 replicates inside its host cell it makes random mistakes. These mistakes, or mutations, might produce a different version of SARS-CoV-2, or they might simply provide a ‘footprint’ of what SARS-CoV-2 was like in a specific time and place. They will be an important investigative tool going forward. You’ll spend this section working with mutations so that by the end you’ll have a thorough understanding of how they work.

1.24 Let’s play the mutation game! (7 slides)

Here’s the payoff! Will you be lucky (or unlucky) enough to produce the next pandemic-causing virus – SARS-CoV-3??

1.25 Correcting errors (14 slides)

Most viruses are stuck with their random mutations, but not SARS-CoV-2! In this last section, you will learn about the strategy SARS-CoV-2 has evolved to get rid of mutations as they happen. And you’ll consider whether it’s an advantage or not.

1.26 Vocab review

1.27 Apply your new knowledge!
Check out the following article about how SARS-CoV-2 is mutating and answer the questions on your worksheet.
Find the link here.

1.27 Reading worksheet