Typically the protein coat, or capsid, of an individual virus particle, or virion, is composed of multiple copies of one or several types of protein subunits, or capsomeres. Some viruses contain enzymes, and some have an outer membranous envelope. Many viruses have striking geometrically regular shapes, with helical structure as in tobacco mosaic virus, polyhedral (often icosahedral) symmetry as in herpes virus, or more complex mixtures of arrangements as in large viruses, such as the pox viruses and the larger bacterial viruses, or bacteriophages. Certain viruses, such as bacteriophages, have complex protein tails. The inner viral genetic material—the nucleic acid—may be double stranded, with two complementary strands, or single stranded; it may be deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA). The nucleic acid specifies information for the synthesis of from a few to 50 different proteins, depending on the type of virus.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.