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Virus 101

Virus 101

What's a virus? It's not a living organism. It's basically a giant molecule that can't do anything except replicate itself.

But it can't even do that unless it invades a human cell and tricks the molecular machinery of the cell into doing the replication. When the replicated viruses leave the cell, in search of other cells to infect, they burst out and kill the host cell. Nice for the virus. Not nice for the human.

But this is where the immune system kicks in. It first analyzes the molecular structure of the virus. It then tags it as a foreign object that should not be in the body. And then in manufactures a molecule designed specifically for a given virus. This molecule, called an "antibody", attaches to the virus and disables it. It's a brilliant piece of molecular engineering.

The problem occurs if the immune system malfunctions. Then the antibody never gets created and the virus never gets disabled. The result can be lethal.

There are tons of chemicals that can kill a virus, providing the virus is on a surface. If the virus is in a human cell these same chemicals will do more damage to the human cell than they do to the virus.

The only way to kill a virus inside a human cell is by clever molecular chemistry similar to that used by the immune system. That requires a whole new level of science that's developing fast. One day it will be routine.

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Content written and posted by Ken Abbott