VIRION.NET showcases viral graphics and animations created by Russell Kightley. A VIRION is a virus particle, the infectious "seed" that jumps from cell to cell.
Virions have a central CORE that houses their genetic material (the viral genome) stored as RNA or DNA. The core is protected by a protein shell or CAPSID. Capsids are often icosahedral, an icosahedron being the best way to enclose a volume using a limited number of identical elements. A membrane or ENVELOPE may also invest the virion. Virions vary is size and shape: some are simple icosahedra and others, like the bacteriophages, resemble lunar landing craft. Virions often have SPIKES or KNOBS, protein projections that help the arriving virion attach to a cell surface and enter the cytoplasm. VACCINES often target such SPIKE PROTEINS. Once inside the cell, the viral genes commandeer the cell's protein-making and nucleic-acid-making machinery to build new virions. These new virions disperse (within the body and between bodies) and the cycle repeats.
There has been a paradigm shift in recent years, with a virus being regarded more as the infected cell (the VIROCELL of Patrick Forterre), and the virions being its dispersed seeds. This view obviates the "Are viruses alive?" question, since virocells are clearly alive, and virions (what most of us think of when we hear the word virus) are simply seeds, inert packages of movable genes.
Some viruses (e.g. HIV) insert their genes into the DNA of the host cell nucleus, a process called INTEGRATION. It's estimated that the human genome is at least 20% viral. Some theories suggest that the nucleus of eukaryotes formed from a membrane-enclosed VIRAL FACTORY (the vesicle where viruses are assembled in a cell) see Forteree 2022. Some people even think that it was a virus that invented DNA (DNA is more stable than RNA, and RNA is attacked in cells) to evade host-cell defences. If that's the case, then we're all far more viral that we thought... VIRAL EUKARYOGENESIS is the idea that viruses triggered the leap from prokaryotes (probably archaea) to the nucleated eukaryotic cells that make up plants and animals. See Masaharu Takemura 2020 & Philip J. L. Bell 2022.