Press release Hubrecht Institute

Researchers develop virus live stream to study virus infection

16 November 2020

Researchers from the Hubrecht Institute and Utrecht University developed an advanced technique that makes it possible to monitor a virus infection live. The researchers from the groups of Marvin Tanenbaum and Frank van Kuppeveld expect that the technique can be used to study a wide variety of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 – the virus responsible for the current pandemic.

The technique named VIRIM (‘virus infection real-time imaging’) is therefore very valuable for gaining insights in virus infection in the human body. Eventually, this can lead to more targeted treatments for viral infection. The results were published in the leading scientific journal Cell on the 13th of November.

Viruses have a large negative impact on society. This is demonstrated once again by the enormous consequences of the current global outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 for our physical- and mental health and for the economy.


RNA-viruses represent a large group of viruses, which carry their genetic information in the form of RNA: a molecule that is similar to DNA, the genetic material of humans. After infection of a host cell, an RNA-virus hijacks many of the host cell’s functions and turns it into a virus-producing factory. This way, the intruder can quickly replicate inside cells in the body.

The new virus particles are subsequently released through the respiratory tract and can infect other people. Examples of RNA-viruses include coronaviruses, the hepatitis C virus, the zika virus, and enteroviruses – a group of viruses that includes rhinoviruses, causing the common cold, coxsackieviruses, that are an important cause of viral meningitis and encephalitis, and the poliovirus, that causes paralytic poliomyelitis.

Live stream

Until now, available techniques could only provide a snapshot of virus-infected cells. In other words, researchers could see the infected cells at a certain point in time, but it was not possible to monitor the process of virus infection from beginning to end. The newly developed microscope technology VIRIM (‘virus infection realtime imaging’) changes that: researchers from the groups of Marvin Tanenbaum (Hubrecht) and Frank van Kuppeveld (Utrecht University) developed this advanced method with which the entire course of a virus infection can be visualized in the lab with great precision (video 1). “This new method enables us to address many important questions about viruses”, says Sanne Boersma, first author of the study.

You can read the full press release via the Hubrecht Institute-website.