Microworld: Viral Hunt

Nurro, Daniela Gamba, Eyewire, citizen science, microbiology

We’ve all heard a lot about viruses this past year! But what exactly is a virus, and how does it fit into the world of microbiology?

Viruses a very small, even for the microworld! They are considered to be submicroscopic, meaning you cannot see them with a traditional microscope. However, you can capture images of viruses using an electron microscope – the same technology we use to image our Eyewire datasets!

All viruses are parasitic, meaning they require a host in order to replicate. Viral host requirements are pretty diverse though! Animals, plants, bacteria, yeast, archaea, and protozoa can all be infected with viruses. Some viruses can even infect other viruses!

Viruses can have an extremely simple design, consisting of nucleic acid surrounded by a protein coat known as a capsid. Viruses commonly come in a few shapes.

  • Helical viruses have a spiral shape.
  • Polyhedral viruses have many flat sides, and are most commonly 20-sided with triangular faces.
  • Enveloped viruses appear spherical due to a protein, fat or carbohydrate coat over their capsid. SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped virus, as are other coronaviruses like the common cold and the flu viruses.
  • The last type of virus is a “complex” virus, such as the bacteriophage, which is a virus that infects bacteria and looks like a creepy little robot.

Scientists continue to debate whether viruses should be considered as living things. They resemble organisms in that they possess genes, evolve by natural selection, and reproduce by creating multiple copies of themselves through self-assembly. However, they do not have a cell structure, which is often considered to be a basic staple in the wardrobe of life, and they also cannot reproduce on their own, instead requiring a host cell to replicate.

Every virus-host relationship is different. In many cases, viruses do not cause disease, and can even be beneficial. For example, in mice a herpes virus lives in symbiosis with its host, helping to prevent infection from the bacterial infection.

Where viruses do cause disease, humans have been able to help stop the spread of pathogenic viral infection via the power of science! The first vaccine was the smallpox vaccine, developed in 1796. A dose of the cowpox virus was administered to patients, as it guarded against smallpox and was relatively mild in comparison. Viruses fighting viruses, cool!

In 2021 some countries have been able to make various COVID vaccines available to their citizens to fight off the deadly SARS-CoV-2 that has had a reign of terror through all of 2020. If you are eligible for a COVID vaccine, lucky you! Get it to do your part to keep yourself, your family, and your community safe against the spread of COVID! If you are not able to do that, we have learned that masks and distancing measures will also help slow the spread of the virus. Thanks science!

Viruses are always on the hunt for the perfect host that will allow them to replicate and spread. Now it’s your turn to hunt out those virus-like pesky mergers that seem to keep replicating on our hunt cells! Find them all and be greatly rewarded!

How to Hunt

There are 12 mergers in the Hunt cell; you have 5.5 days and 24 guesses to locate them all, between midnight ET on 5/22 and noon ET on 5/27.

    1. Select Hunt cell from Change Cell menu. Stay in the overview.
    2. Type /debug into chat. This will reveal a special box with information about the cell (located above the “Start Playing” box).
    3. Use ALT+click to select the origin point of the merger you have identified. It is a good idea to zoom in close on the merger before you select it to get the most accurate coordinates.
    4. Find the coordinates of the merger’s origin in the cell information box. These are next to the word “center.”
    5. In the chat pm thehunt bot your coordinates. For example: /pm thehunt 5123 4321 5678.
    6. thehunt bot will let you know if you got it right or wrong and tell you how many guesses you have left.
    7. To check how many mergers you have found and to check what guesses you have submitted, type “/pm thehunt !list”; the bot will give you a list of all the coordinates you have guessed, and whether or not there was a merger at each set of coordinates. A + means there was a merger there, a means there was not a merger there.
    8. If you accidentally submit the same coordinate a second time, it does not count as two guesses.

Do not reveal your coordinates to other players. Do not do anything against the spirit of the Hunt. Anyone caught cheating will be automatically disqualified from the event and will not receive any points.

Proximity to merger start point is determined by number of voxels (1 voxel = approx. 1/250th of a cube’s width). Mergers are only counted as found if guessed within a distance of 250 voxels. Pieces of dust floating in space don’t count as mergers, so please don’t report them! We also do not count fused mergers that could not be removed during the Hunt prep process.

Swag (made possible by generous donations from Eyewirer @susi): The top scoring player will win their choice of face mask or notebook, plus a magnet! Second and third place will each also win magnets.

Bonus info is available in your in-game notifications. Good luck, and happy hunting!

Artwork by Daniela Gamba