Coronavirus aggressively invades lung cells in chilling new images
The images were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and show how prolific coronavirus can become in a mere four days.
Even cast sterile monochrome, the pictures are spine shivering. At first blush, they appear to depict some unknown fungus devouring a sea anemone or maybe spider egg sacs infesting some poor soul's hair. But the actual subject is far too familiar these days. Those pictures show novel coronavirus in the microscopic flesh.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the images offer an up-close and far-too-personal look at lung cells teeming with coronavirus. They were produced by Camille Ehre, an assistant professor at the University of School of Medicine's Marsico Lung Institute, and her team. They wanted to research how coronavirus occupied human airways and what happened to the inundated cells. And they vividly got their answer.
Not exactly camera shy
Another image of novel coronavirus. This one shows the virions 10 times closer than the above image.
To start, Ehre and her team exposed epithelial cells to novel coronavirus in a biosafe laboratory. Epithelium tissues are found at the barriers between the human body and the outside world, often lining the outer surfaces of organs and blood vessels. They serve many functions, including protection, fluid balance, particle clearance, and triggering immune responses. These functions make them important to the health and safety of our respiratory system.
The researchers took their epithelial cells from a bronchus, major airway passages by which air moves from the windpipe and into the lungs. The initial cells were taken from a transplanted lung and later grown in lab dishes. So, unlike your typical photoshoot or family portrait, this experiment remained ethically above board.
After exposing the cells to coronavirus, they waited for the infection to take hold. They then captured images of the epithelial cells with a scanning electron microscope, a device that uses a focused beam of high-energy electrons to produce images. They discovered a high density of virions—individual particles of the virus existing outside the host cell—had been produced and were swarming over the cells. In a mere 96 hours, virus production skyrocketed to reach a multiplicity of infection of three to one. That means there were three virions for each targeted airway cell.
"When we looked at these infected cultures under an SEM microscope, the most striking observation was the astonishing number of virions produced by a single infected cell," Ehre told Gizmodo in an interview. "Some of these infected cells were so engorged with viruses that they rounded up and detached from the epithelium, giving the impression that they were about to burst."
The image at the top of this article shows the invasion at one-micrometer magnification. The tentacle-looking projections are respiratory cilia, hair-like organelles on epithelium that move microbes and other debris out of our airways. That spider-web looking stuff is mucus produced by goblet cells; it's used to trap microorganisms and protect the bronchus. Neither are effective against the locust-like plight of virions.
Above is the same scene but at 100 nanometers (10 times closer). From this all-too intimate vantage, you can clearly see the peplomers—those spiky protrusions on the virions' envelopes. These peplomers give the coronavirus family its name as they have a crown-like appearance when viewed under such a high magnification—corona coming from the Latin for "garland or crown."
Protect your lungs, wash those hands
These images are a stark reminder of why COVID-19 infections can so devastate the human body. It's not only that our bodies serve as their viral birthing centers. It's that we're their all-in-one resource smorgasbord.
Because viruses can't reproduce on their own, they have to inject their genetic material into host cells. They incorporate their DNA or RNA into a host cell's genome, and a bouncing baby virion is born, one that often kills the host upon release. It's basically the backstory of "Aliens" at a Lilliputian scale, and should viral proliferation spread too quickly, even our immune-responsive Marines can't put up a fight. If enough cells are destroyed, the harm can affect the entire host organism—which now includes us.
"These images of SARS-CoV-2 infected cultures showing ciliated cells jam-packed with viruses releasing large clumps of virus particles make a strong case for the use of masks by infected and uninfected individuals to limit SARS-CoV-2 transmission," Ehre said.
They certainly do. Warnings about coronavirus in the abstract can make the case for physical distancing, shuttered schools, and wearing stifling makes while shopping. For a while. But as we've seen, people will eventually tire of their social sacrifices. Perhaps the idea of the above horror show occurring more closely to home will spur us to keep up the fight and listen to the experts for a while longer.
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What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.
- Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
- The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
- The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18886ffd5e5840bb19d4494212f88d82"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2NDVdNwsHCo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
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