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Diagram, electron micrograph, and genome of coronavirus types.
Virus classification Edit this classification
(unranked): Virus
Realm: Riboviria
Kingdom: Orthornavirae
Phylum: Pisuviricota
Class: Pisoniviricetes
Order: Nidovirales
Suborder: Cornidovirineae
Family: Coronaviridae
Subfamilies and genera

Coronaviridae is a family of enveloped, positive-strand RNA viruses which infect amphibians, birds, and mammals. The group includes the subfamilies Letovirinae and Orthocoronavirinae; the members of the latter are known as coronaviruses.

The viral genome is 26–32 kilobases in length. The particles are typically decorated with large (~20 nm), club- or petal-shaped surface projections (the "peplomers" or "spikes"), which in electron micrographs of spherical particles create an image reminiscent of the solar corona.[1][2][3]


Replication cycle of a coronavirus

The 5' and 3' ends of the genome have a cap and poly(A) tract, respectively. The viral envelope, obtained by budding through membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) or Golgi apparatus, invariably contains two virus-specified glycoprotein species, known as the spike (S) and membrane (M) proteins. The spike protein makes up the large surface projections (sometimes known as peplomers), while the membrane protein is a triple-spanning transmembrane protein. Toroviruses and a select subset of coronaviruses (in particular the members of subgroup A in the genus Betacoronavirus) possess, in addition to the peplomers composed of S, a second type of surface projections composed of the hemagglutinin-esterase protein. Another important structural protein is the phosphoprotein nucleocapsid protein (N), which is responsible for the helical symmetry of the nucleocapsid that encloses the genomic RNA.[4] The fourth and smallest viral structural protein is known as the envelope protein (E), thought to be involved in viral budding.[5]

Genetic recombination can occur when at least two viral genomes are present in the same infected host cell. RNA recombination appears to be a major driving force in coronavirus evolution. Recombination can determine genetic variability within a CoV species, the capability of a CoV species to jump from one host to another and, infrequently, the emergence of a novel CoV.[6] The exact mechanism of recombination in CoVs is not known, but likely involves template switching during genome replication.[6]


Taxonomy of family Coronaviridae with species pathogenic to humans

The family Coronaviridae is organized in 2 sub-families, 5 genera, 26 sub-genera, and 46 species.[7] Additional species are pending or tentative.[8]


Coronavirus is the common name for Coronaviridae and Orthocoronavirinae, also called Coronavirinae.[10][11] Coronaviruses cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, the viruses cause respiratory infections. Four human coronaviruses cause typically minor symptoms of a common cold, while three are known to cause more serious illness and can be lethal: SARS-CoV-1, which causes SARS; MERS-CoV, which causes MERS; and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.[12] Symptoms vary in other species: in chickens, they cause an upper respiratory disease, while in cows and pigs coronaviruses cause diarrhea. Other than for SARS-CoV-2, there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs to prevent or treat human coronavirus infections. They are enveloped viruses with a positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome and a nucleocapsid of helical symmetry. The genome size of coronaviruses ranges from approximately 26 to 32 kilobases, among the largest for an RNA virus (second only to a 41-kb nidovirus recently discovered in planaria).[13]

Phylogenetic tree of Coronaviridae with host species indicated by color

Orthocoronavirinae taxonomy[edit]


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