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The outer shell of a virus is called capsid. It consists of several monomeric subunits made of protein. The capsid serves three main purposes :

  • It protects the genetic material of the virus.
  • It determines if a cell is suitable for infection.
  • It starts the actual infection by attaching and "opening" the target cell and injecting the genetic material of the virus into the cell.

Once the virus has infected the cell, it will sooner or later start replicating itself, using the "infrastructure" of the infected cell. During this process, the capsid subunits are synthesized according to the genetic material of the virus, using the protein biosynthesis mechanism of the cell.