It’s ScienceTyme! With Prof. Losanjealous

’virus1.jpg’Dear Prof. Losanjealous:

I was in my biology class and I fell asleep because it was so boring. My teacher was showing slides. But then I woke up and saw something that looked like a Cheesy Bites pizza. Then he changed the slide. Can you tell me what I was looking at?

Henry Gomez
8th grade
Thomas Starr King Middle School

Prof. Losanjealous:

Hmmmm. Good question, Henry.

You could have been looking at literally billions of different things. But I’m going to guess that it was the cross-section of a virus, a Tobacco Mosaic virus perhaps. What caught your attention was the similarity between the crust of the Pizza Hut Cheesy Bites PizzaTM; and the virus’s shell of proteinaceous capsids. They both look roughly like a necklace of golf balls.
But the similarities end there, Henry. Think of capsids as little shields that protect the virus’s RNA. When the virus enters a human cell, the higher salinity of the cell’s endoplasm weakens the binding energy between the capsids–the virus’s “cheesy bites.” They break apart, releasing the RNA into the host cell. This RNA “hijacks” the host DNA, causing it to create new viruses instead of new cells. The viruses multiply until the cell explodes and the process begins all over again. When you eat the crust of the Cheesy Bites PizzaTM, on the other hand–nothing happens. You may feel like you’re going to explode, Henry, but you’re not going to create thousands of new pizzas. At least Prof. Losanjealous hopes not.

Thanks for writing!

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