What the Differences Between a Virion and a Virus?

According to the Molecular and Cell Biology Department website at the University of Cape Town, virions are virus particles that contain the genetic information of the virus. They are inert entities that do not perform any functions until they penetrate the cell wall of a suitable host.

The University of Cape Town draws an analogy between human spacecraft and virions. Just as a spacecraft ferries humans through inhospitable places, virions keep the genetic material of a virus safe until it can find a host cell. Virions are composed almost entirely of nucleic acids and proteins. Virions occur in a variety of shapes. Some virions are classified as simple helical or simple isometric structures, while others are classified as having complex or enveloped structures.

In 1983, a scientist by the name of Bandea suggested that viruses do not have an inherent morphological structure. Instead, when a viroid infects a cell, the entire cell becomes the virus, according to Dr. Vincent Racaniello on virology blog. This means that viruses are indeed living organisms, settling a long-standing debate among microbiologists. Many people mistake viruses for virions, which is similar to mistaking a sperm cell for a full human being. Part of this confusion springs from media reports that mislabel virions as viruses.