Coronavirus (COVID-19) - A 3D medical animation video reviewing the biological Mechanism of Action of the Next Potential Pandemic

Our full explainer video tells the story so far, gives a perspective on pandemics, explains the biology of how COVID-19 attacks the body, and gives you tips on how to protect yourself. Through 3D medical animation, understand the structure of the Coronavirus and how it hijacks cells into replicating the virus.


An outbreak of coronavirus infections in the WuHan province of China in December 2019, is threatening to emerge as the next pandemic. At current count, over 30,000 cases and 600 deaths has been reported in China and over 300  cases in 25 other countries.  Unofficial modelling studies by a number of institutions claim infections of over 150,000.  The alarming speed of transmission is in part because the virus spreads through the air and by touch.  Using the power of 3D medical animation, this video covers what is a pandemic, how this coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading, how coronavirus attacks the body and what are recommended precautions to take for protecting against epidemics.

Past pandemics

Pandemics indicate outbreaks of disease that spread to cover an entire region or the world.  A pandemic can result in massive loss of life. In the last 100 years there have been 4 global pandemics, the worst with the 1918 Influenza pandemic resulting in an estimated 50-100 million deaths.  While no global pandemic has been borne from the family of coronavirus, 2 regional epidemics have resulted from this family of viruses. They include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS in 2001-2003 and 2012-2015 respectively, and resulted in over 1500 deaths.

The COVID-19 Virus

Much is yet to be known about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. An early study of 99 infected showed a high mortality of 11%, similar to SARS, and ICU admission rates of 23%.  An earlier study described a virus pathology with an eight day incubation period, a week of infection followed by a potential escalation to hospitalization and intensive care over another 8 -10 days .

Other indications put the mortality rate closer to 4%.  The virus has, as of Feb 6, over 40,000 confirmed cases in China alone with almost 200 cases in over 25 other countries.  However, Dr Jonathan Reed from the UK believes that the number of actual cases is far greater, and has estimated between 170 to 300 thousand by Feb 9.  This is because symptoms can be mild ,and escape reporting and testing.  What’s more, in stark contrast to SARS, some patients may be infectious in their incubation period, before the onset of any symptoms.

Mechanism of Action (Mechanism of Disease) of Coronavirus

The 2019 novel coronavirus is a newly discovered strain from the coronavirus family that causes respiratory disease.  Humans have long been infected by coronavirus as it is one of those responsible for the common cold.  It is a contagious viral infection spread through inhalation or ingestion of viral droplets.  As a result, coughing and sneezing, and touching infected surfaces are primary sources of infection.  

The structure of coronavirus has multiple parts.  Inside the virus lies the genetic encoding that allows the virus to hijack human cells and turn them into virus factories. A protein encapsulates the genetic material known as the viral envelope.  On the surface of the virion are S and HE proteins.  The structure of 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a mutation.  For more info on this see the link below.

The large S glycoproteins are used by the virus to gain entry to human cells.  They most likely attach to Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 receptors on the cell membrane allowing the virus entry.  The exact mechanism for this is not known.  Most likely, as shown here, the human cell ingests the virus in a process known as endocytosis.  

Once inside the cytoplasm, the endosome opens to reveal the virus’s genetic material, a single stranded RNA.  The virus hijacks the cells machinery to replicate the RNA and N proteins and uses the endoplasmic reticulum to form its M protein outer layer, and the all important S protein.  After replication, the virus is carried by the golgi bodies out of the cell in a process known as exocytosis, so that it can infect other cells.  Meanwhile, The stress of viral production on the endoplasmic reticulum eventually leads to apoptosis, or cell death.

It should be noted that the mechanism of action for 2019 novel coronavirus is unknown.  However, scientists in China have sequenced the genome, while others have used the sequencing to visualize the structure.

Recommended precautions 

There is currently no cure, or vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus, and treatment is only supportive.  Therefore, preventing transmission is paramount.  As an airborne virus recommended precautions are similar to those for preventing the flu.  This includes: 

  • washing hands regularly with soap and water and for 20 seconds
  • covering sneezes and coughs with the inside of the elbow
  • refraining from touching high contact surfaces like railings and doorknobs
  • if you use tissues, throw them away immediately
  • avoid close contact with people who are sick.

For more info on precautions and best practices see the list of references below.


The pandemic risk of the novel coronavirus is very real.  However, biology has advanced greatly in the 15 years since SARS, and so has communication between biologists and governments,  China has taken monumental efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Also, some existing and experimental drugs are offering hope for treating the infection and improving outcomes.  But even still, infection control habits remain paramount if humanity is to stave off a full pandemic . For further information, see the resources listed here.

Pick ups.

R-Naught is the average number of people that an infected individual will go on to infect. One study puts R Naught at 2.7 for 2019 novel coronavirus.  

The epidemic is believed to be doubling every 6.4 days.

The incubation period for novel coronavirus has been said to be between 2 and 14 days.  One study from China calculated the incubation period as 5.2 days.

The ACE 2 receptor has also been implicated in the SARS coronavirus epidemic.



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