What Causes the Common Cold?

Design by Daniel Peterschmidt

Science Friday airs on WSQX Fridays 2-4 p.m.

The common cold is an unwelcome yet familiar visitor this time of year. But how much do we really know about it? The term “common cold” is actually a catch-all for several different families of viruses that give us cold-like symptoms. The most common type is a small RNA virus called a rhinovirus, made up of just 10 genes. Researchers think it most likely originated as an enterovirus, a virus most commonly found in the low pH environment of the human gut, that mutated and developed an affinity for the comfy moist confines of the nose and throat. So what about the elusive “cure” for the common cold?

Plankton Goes Viral

In just one gulp of seawater, there are roughly 200 million viruses. But before canceling your seaside vacation, consider this: These viruses have their sights set on the ocean’s microorganisms, such as plankton. Scientists got an unprecedented look at the viruses swirling around the upper ocean as a result of the Tara Oceans expedition. From 2009 to 2013, scientists sampled 26 sites across the world’s oceans. Jennifer Brum and Matthew Sullivan, from the University of Arizona, are among the researchers studying these samples to catalog and understand the viruses that influence the ocean’s—and by extension, the world’s—ecosystem.