Jim Fisher

I talk a lot about viruses and ways to combat them in this column. I love figuring out how they work and how to defeat them. I’m equally fascinated with another kind of virus, The Rona, that seems to be pretty popular in these parts. As you all know, an antivirus program has been developed that will finally smash this bug as long as we are all willing to install the update. So with that said, how does this antivirus program work? I was curious so I researched lots of reliable, informative sources and came up with the following 2-part summary that even I can understand.

For this discussion, a human cell has 3 basic components: the cell wall, a tiny protein factory called the ribosome, and the cytoplasm that gives a cell its shape.

A Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine contains 2 basic components: the mRNA itself, and the “oily soap bubble” lipid that encapsulates it. The mRNA molecule is made of 4 amino acids arranged in a specific sequence. It’s useful to think of it as morse code stamped onto toilet paper. It’s really fragile which is why it has to be encapsulated in a lipid. When it falls apart, it becomes food for making more protein in your body. Scientists have known for decades that mRNA could change the world if they could only find a way to deliver it to a cell membrane, which brings us to the next character: The lipid nanoparticle.

This soap bubble lipid is made of naturally occurring molecules (salts and sugar and glycol molecules--it’s this glycol that is probably behind the incredibly rare allergic reactions and also the main ingredient in some laxatives). Turns out this lipid stuff, unlike mRNA, is REALLY hard to make. The people who found a way to encapsulate mRNA will probably receive a Nobel Prize for their work.

The last character in this story is the ribosome. Ribosomes are little factories inside every cell of your body that manufacture all the protein in your body.

HOW IT WORKS: So this innocent little mRNA message is encapsulated in a soap bubble lipid, then combined with some saltwater, and injected into your muscle. That lipid is immediately chemically attracted to the cell wall and releases the mRNA message into the cell’s cytoplasm. The little strand of mRNA is chemically attracted to the ribosome. The ribosome then starts unraveling and “translates” the message, then poops out an innocent little protein molecule. But (cue suspenseful background music) this harmless little protein has an odd shape. A scary shape. An ugly, terrifying scarecrow shape that scares the daylights out of your immune system.

Now that I’ve introduced the main characters, and getting to the good part of the story, I’m out of column space. Part two will tell a tale of how a harmless little scarecrow causes a body to build a vast army of paranoid scarecrow killers. Until then, be safe!

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com