For the very first time, researchers have photographed a virus reproducing and destroying cells, given the tiny size of these micro-organisms between 20 and 200 nanometres.
"The image shows vaccinia virus, the live-virus vaccine used to eradicate smallpox, spreading from a single infected cell through an entire layer of monkey kidney cells," said Timothy Newsome, from the University of Sydney.
Newsome and Dean Procter, doctoral student from his lab at the university's School of Molecular Bioscience, collaborated with colleagues from the Australian National University to create the image. The technique also helps calculate the level of infectious virus present in cells, the journal Cell reports.
It was part of Newsome's research on understanding the role of viral genes in viral biology and the effect that mutating these genes has on the viruses' ability to cause disease. The image is fittingly titled 'Eye of the Storm' to convey the sense of seeing the starting point of the viral activity in the cells.
"The image is actually a composite of several smaller images taken in the microscope facility in the School of Molecular Bioscience," said Procter, according to a Sydney statement.
"To create them we work with the ideal dilution of highly concentrated virus so that only a few cells are infected. That allows us to monitor the spread of the virus through the uninfected cell layer," he added.
Three days after the initial infection, the cells are chemically fixed, creating a snapshot of the infection at this stage.