Amherst College Science Center

Amherst College Biophysicist-Approved Collection of Coronavirus Information

The following database comes from Donna Roscoe’21 as part of the BCBP400 course COVID Communications Project. 

One of the worst parts of this pandemic is the lack of concrete knowledge regarding the virus. Even the littlest fact can tether us to reality, keeping our minds from going to the worst possible outcomes. It’s easy to read the news and grasp onto whatever piece of information an article offers about fatality rates, how the virus spreads, or anything else we can get our hands on. However, the media is not usually the best way to get scientific information. Rather, it’s best to learn things straight from the scientists and scientific articles themselves. Most of us don’t have the bandwidth to do this ourselves, which is why we’re creating an Amherst College Biophysicist-Approved Collection of Coronavirus Information (ACBACCI, pronounced “Ack-Back-Eee,” representative of our own reactions to the virus itself). We have 5 facts to start us off, but if you come across a scientific article with useful information, you may submit it to the submission portal here for review by our COVID-19 Council, which consists of Amherst College students who have taken advanced courses in Biochemistry and Biophysics. Facts from the submitted article may be added to our collection! Credit will be given to those who submit each link.

  1. “Science Forum: SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) by the numbers”


Fact 1: SARS-CoV-2 (also known as Covid-19 and Coronavirus) has a mutation rate of 0.0008 mutations/(site*year), which is only 1/5th the mutation rate of influenza, which has a mutation rate of 0.004 mutations/(site*year). 

Fact 2: Most infections of Covid-19 are in respiratory tissues, namely in Type I and II pneumocytes (lungs), alveolar macrophages (lungs), and in mucous cells in the nasal cavity (nose). This suggests that we do not have to worry about infection through mosquitos, as they transmit infections through the blood.

Fact 3: Antibodies from Covid-19 appear in the blood after approximately 10-20 days, and likely are maintained for approximately 2-3 years, based on estimates from SARS-CoV-1.

Fact 4:Covid-19 has a proofreading mechanism for its genome, which accounts for its low mutation rate. 


 2. “Structure of Mpro from COVID-19 virus and discovery of its inhibitors” 


Fact 1: Most of the proteins of Covid-19 come from polyproteins, that is, they have to be cleaved by a protease before becoming of use to the virus. Thus, Covid-19 has a main protease, Mpro, that is essential to its functioning and replication. This makes Mpro a potential target of treatments for the virus, and drugs have already been identified as effective in inhibiting Mpro. 

 3. “​Why does COVID-19 disproportionately affect older people?”


     Source provided by Professor Sheila Jaswal, Massachusetts 

Fact 1: 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are above age of 65, and that group has a 23-fold greater mortality rate than those under 65. Besides, these people often have weak or defective immune responses to vaccinations, therefore it will be necessary to consider that when developing vaccines.

Fact 2: One potential cause of increased COVID-19 mortality in older adults is the phenomenon of immunosenescence, or age-related decline in immune system functioning.

Fact 3: Immunosenescence is characterized by a decrease in pathogen recognition, weakened  bodily (cytokine) response following recognition, and reduction of the adaptive immune system (reduced numbers, diversity, and responsiveness of B and T cells).

Fact 4: Another potential cause of increased COVID-19 mortality in older adults is the phenomenon of inflammaging, the chronic increase in system inflammation due to an overactive, ineffective alert system.

Fact 5: COVID-19 could lead to a condition called “cytokine storm”, which is characterized by rapid and uncontrolled inflammatory signalling cascade caused by the irregularly high amount of cytokines in the bloodstream. Older adults are mainly prone to cytokine storms, but the reason remains unknown.

4. “Flushing the Toilet May Fling Coronavirus Aerosols All Over”

    Source: (2 min read)

    Scientific journal source:

    Source provided by Samantha Presnal ’11

Fact 1: Past studies have shown that human coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, are                 characterized by fecal-oral transmission.

Fact 2: The authors used toilet flushing simulations and fluid dynamics computational models to visualize and characterize the movement of aerosol particles due to improper flushing.

Fact 3: An upward velocity of 5 m/s can be produced, which can easily expel aerosol particles outside of the toilet bowl. 

Fact 4: 40%-60% of total particles can rise above the toilet seat and spread across a large area. The particles can reach as high as 106.5 cm off the ground. Particles can still remain vertically climbing in the air 35-70s after flushing.

Fact 5: In order to minimize fecal-oral transmission, close the toilet lid before you flush. Please.

You should already be closing the lid before you flush. If not, the time to start is now 🙂 

5. “How to Run Safely Amid Coronavirus Concerns”


    Source provided by Samantha Presnal ’11

Fact 1: It is safe to run outside, provided that you follow certain guidelines to prevent infection and infecting others. 30-60 minutes of running can even help your immune system keep viruses at bay.

Fact 2: Running alone is the best way to reduce risks. Try timing your run when your route is less crowded to avoid any potential points of transmission with other individuals. If you are sick or at risk, STAY AT HOME. It is not possible to ‘exercise’ the virus out of your system. Make sure to check your local public health recommendations and health mandates in your local area before heading out.

Fact 3: According to research, more than 90% of virus staying on surfaces will be inactivated after 11-34 minutes of exposure to the sun, however, some surfaces, such as elevator buttons, are not constantly exposed to sunlight, and it could be a serious problem if people coughed on their hands before touching. Therefore it’s recommended to avoid high-touched surfaces such as buttons for elevators and traffic lights, and maybe use a glove, or elbow.

Fact 4: Masks-wearing guidelines state that masks, “should not be worn damp or when wet from spit or mucus,” which means it’s not absolutely necessary to wear a mask while running as it will only become ineffective during your run as your breathing dampens it. You should, however, keep a mask on hand to wear whenever you take a break or encounter a larger gathering of people.