Caister Academic Press

What is SARS?

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An introduction to SARS.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory disease of humans. The disease is caused by the a coronavirus. It was thought that coronaviruses were not of great importance from the human point of view. However, these viruses were always known to be important animal viruses and cause important diseases in animals, such as feline infectious peritonitis, porcine transmissible gastroenteritis and avian infectious bronchitis.

Then along came SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome to give it its full name. A renewed scientific effort was employed to identify and characterize the SARS virus and to find ways to prevent and cure this life-threatening infection. In a very short time, the molecular details of the SARS virus were discovered. The emergence of the SARS virus in the human population, originating from an animal source, shows the importance of animals in harbouring viruses with the potential to transfer into the human population.

Research in coronaviruses is well advanced and scientists now know details of the replication strategy of these viruses, their specific enzymatic functions, and the mechanism of genome transcription and replication. It is hoped that this knowledge will eventually lead to new ways of treatment. Coronaviruses belong to that group of viruses that have RNA genomes. Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses with a positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome. They have large genomes that are replicated by RNA dependent RNA polymerase. (Reference: Coronaviruses: Molecular and Cellular Biology ISBN: 978-1-904455-16-5)

Suggested further reading on virology at Virology Books and at Coronaviruses: Molecular and Cellular Biology

Current research topics at the Microbiology Blog and the Molecular Biology Blog

Further reading