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The total number and mass of SARS-CoV-2 virions

Sender, Ron and Bar-On, Yinon M. and Gleizer, Shmuel and Bernsthein, Biana and Flamholz, Avi and Phillips, Rob and Milo, Ron (2020) The total number and mass of SARS-CoV-2 virions. . (Unpublished)

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Quantitatively describing the time course of the SARS-CoV-2 infection within an infected individual is important for understanding the current global pandemic and possible ways to combat it. Here we integrate the best current knowledge about the typical viral load of SARS-CoV-2 in bodily fluids and host tissues to estimate the total number and mass of SARS-CoV-2 virions in an infected person. We estimate that each infected person carries 10⁹-10¹¹ virions during peak infection, with a total mass in the range of 1-100 μg, which curiously implies that all SARS-CoV-2 virions currently circulating within human hosts have a collective mass of only 0.1-10 kg. We combine our estimates with the available literature on host immune response and viral mutation rates to demonstrate how antibodies markedly outnumber the spike proteins and the genetic diversity of virions in an infected host covers all possible single nucleotide substitutions.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Discussion Paper)
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper CentralDiscussion Paper
Sender, Ron0000-0002-1165-9818
Bar-On, Yinon M.0000-0001-8477-609X
Gleizer, Shmuel0000-0001-9774-0504
Bernsthein, Biana0000-0002-7957-2575
Flamholz, Avi0000-0002-9278-5479
Phillips, Rob0000-0003-3082-2809
Milo, Ron0000-0003-1641-2299
Alternate Title:The total number and mass of SARS-CoV-2 virions in an infected person
Additional Information:The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license. Version 1 - November 17, 2020; Version 2 - April 5, 2021. We would like to thank Itai Benhar, Gidon Eshel, Shai Fuchs, Thierry Mora, Eran Segal, Maya Shamir, Ziv Shulman, Huicheng Shi, Harinder Singh, Einat Vitner, Aleksandra Walczak, John Yin for valuable feedback on this manuscript. This research was supported by the European Research Council (Project NOVCARBFIX 646827), Israel Science Foundation (Grant 740/16), Beck-Canadian Center for Alternative Energy Research, Dana and Yossie Hollander, Ullmann Family Foundation, Helmsley Charitable Foundation, Larson Charitable Foundation, Wolfson Family Charitable Trust, Charles Rothschild, Selmo Nussenbaum, Miel de Botton (R.M.), the National Institutes of Health (1R35 GM118043-01 (Maximizing Investigators Research Award)) (R.P.), Merkin Institute for Translational Research (R.P.), the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE) via the Weizmann Data Science Research Center and by a research grant from Madame Olga Klein – Astrachan (R.S.). R.M. is the Charles and Louise Gartner Professional Chair. Y.M.B. is an Azrieli Fellow. Data Availability: To generate our estimates of cellular turnover, we extracted values from the literature as detailed in the spreadsheet files available as supplementary information. Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared no competing interest. Author Declarations: I confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained. Yes. The details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below: Not applicable. All necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived. Yes. I understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance). Yes. I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable. Yes.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
European Research Council (ERC)646827
Israel Science Foundation740/16
Beck-Canadian Center for Alternative Energy ResearchUNSPECIFIED
Dana and Yossie HollanderUNSPECIFIED
Ullmann Family FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Helmsley Charitable FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Larson Charitable FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Wolfson Family Charitable TrustUNSPECIFIED
Charles RothschildUNSPECIFIED
Selmo NussenbaumUNSPECIFIED
NIH1R35 GM118043-01
Caltech Merkin Institute for Translational ResearchUNSPECIFIED
Council for Higher Education (Israel)UNSPECIFIED
Weizmann Institute of ScienceUNSPECIFIED
Madame Olga KleinUNSPECIFIED
Charles and Louise Gartner Professional ChairUNSPECIFIED
Azrieli FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
PubMed Central ID:PMC7685332
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20201118-151353187
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:The total number and mass of SARS-CoV-2 virions. Ron Sender, Yinon M. Bar-On, Shmuel Gleizer, Biana Bernsthein, Avi Flamholz, Rob Phillips, Ron Milo. medRxiv 2020.11.16.20232009; doi:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:106731
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:18 Nov 2020 23:45
Last Modified:19 Apr 2021 22:48

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