Plug ‘n Play Molecular Biology

It interests me that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines exploit the same molecular biology to fight the novel coronavirus as the virus itself does to make us sick. You may have heard by now that these two vaccines are mRNA vaccines. mRNA stands for messenger RNA, the intermediate molecule between DNA and protein – DNA->mRNA->Protein – aka the Central Dogma.

The”active ingredient” of the virus is mRNA. It carries the instructions required to make more copies of the virus. But the virus can’t replicate itself, it first needs to get inside a human cell, break apart, and release the mRNA. From there, the cell recognizes the viral mRNA and translates it to proteins, specifically proteins required (in part) to create another viral particle. In a separate (more complicated) step, more copies of the viral mRNA are also made inside the cell. With all the required parts copied, in a final step they are re-assembled into a new virus particle which is effectively spit out of the cell (Exocytosis) to enter the circulation. From there the particle will infect more cells, make even more copies of itself, and so on. The point is, all of the hard work of replication is done inside your normal cells because they don’t recognize the mRNA as foreign. Detail

Stay with me now, almost there. Recall from above that an mRNA carries the instruction to make a protein. Also, as you’ve probably heard, the protein that enables coronavirus to enter your cells is the so-called spike protein – those pin-like protuberances sticking out of the viral particle’s shell (membrane). The spike protein is crucial to the virus’s ability to get into your cells. Unfortunately, your immune system can’t recognize the spike protein because it’s “cloaked” in other molecules, so no antibodies against the spike protein are produced that would bind to it and interfere with the virus’s ability to enter your cells. Fortunately, there are small pieces (peptides) of the spike protein that are “visible” to the immune system.

Enter mRNA vaccines. You create a synthetic mRNA to code for the specific part of the spike protein that is visible – just that small part – and get that mRNA into the cell and have it translated. Synthetic mRNA is the easy part, readily doable in any modern lab. Then, just like the viral mRNA, the cell translates the synthetic mRNA into protein, presents it to the immune system, which in turn creates specific antibodies against it. This is what it means to “train” the immune system. With that, you’ve now got circulating antibodies that will bind to any peptide that looks like that, including those “visible” on the spike protein on the virus! Bind they do, and now the virus is prevented from getting into your cells. Game over, immunity achieved. Detail

The point is the “active ingredient” of both the virus and the vaccine is mRNA. Both leverage the normal molecular machinery of the cell to do all the hard work for free! This is a very different approach compared to how previous vaccines were developed. The most difficult part of getting this approach to work is getting the vaccine mRNA into the cell, which evidently Pfizer and Moderna scientists have figured out. mRNAs are also easily degraded which is why the vaccines need to be kept so cold during distribution.

Disquieting Times

So here we are, a little over two weeks after the election. In all my adult years I’ve never felt less certain about the near future of this country than I do now. It feels to me like a crisis in scope second only to the civil war. The circumstances are of course different, but the feeling of similarity in terms of a deeply divided country that presaged both crises is difficult to deny. We have a president refusing to concede the election because to do so would be the pin that pops his outsized ego. If you’re reluctant to believe that, if you think that’s merely “my opinion,” it really is not just an opinion. It’s an undeniable matter of fact as plain as the nose on your face.

For the past four years tRump has weaponized twitter spewing an orgy of noxious lies, baseless claims, and misleading statements, without equal, certainly for a president. All for a single purpose: to seed doubt and division in this country. And it worked. And it was deliberate, supported in no small part by his lackeys in the republican party, with disappointingly rare exception. The end goal of this division was to concentrate tRump’s supporters and weaponize them, figuratively and in some cases literally, to sew contempt for the Left and in turn keep tRump in the white house another four years. Make no mistake about the true nature of this pathologically egotistical goal. Winning the white house this time wasn’t about the furtherance of republican ideals for another four years – by most measures of what that means tRump is not really a republican anyway. Nor was it only to get more people to vote republican – this was never really about winning the game in the marketplace of ideas. No. That’s swamp talk. In the president’s mind, as in war, games have a sole winner and everyone else is a sucker and a loser. To avoid losing – all that tRump has ever cared about – the real strategy was to dupe voters into believing he, and he alone, would be their savior from the evil of the Left.

And it worked. Over seventy two million people voted for this Prevaricator in Chief. Surely though by now, two weeks after his loss, republicans in both houses of congress have begun to repudiate this man’s refusal to concede, right? Wrong, crickets.

Again, this is not merely my opinion. There is simply no way any rational human being assessing the evidence of lies, contempt for his enemies, and baseless claims the past four years would reach any reasonable conclusion other than this man is a pathological liar and narcissist. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly. This is the president of the United States for God’s sake, how did this happen?

Well, maybe you’re right, but he did lower taxes, right?” Yes, with support from his lackeys in the senate your taxes were lowered. Check. But pardon me for saying this, that’s analogous to the conclusion, in judgement of a cheating husband’s love and commitment to you, “Well, he did recently buy me a new car.

My point in all this goes to motive. tRump didn’t lower your taxes because he wants to make America great again, he would just as well have raised taxes if he thought it would make him, personally, better off. No different than the cheating spouse who aims to buy your continued devotion. None of tRump’s policies, domestic or foreign, derive from a commitment to republican principles – again, quite a few people (some republican) have convincingly argued tRump is No true Scotsman. No, every single action the man takes is a swindle, calculated to keep the national focus on his smug, orange face in order to dupe voters into Keeping. Him. In. Office. No other conclusion of his true motive makes sense.

As was mentioned by Dan Harris during a recent episode of his podcast, every single dial of tRump’s ethical and moral constitution is tuned to the absolute worst possible setting. It’s true. There is zero evidence tRump has any courage, any conviction, any smidgen of caring, sympathy, or empathy for others. If it could be said he does anything well, it’s demagoguery. Again, it pains me to say this, it really does, but the (outgoing) president of the United States is a horrible human being. Although, and here again I agree with Harris, that does not mean tRump is the worst human being ever. He is not Hitler. He’s not Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Ceausescu, etc. Those men also had their dials set to the absolute worst possible settings, but they went further and murdered many of their own citizens. That flips them into the truly Evil category.

I fear what may come next. I fear, as some others do, in his retreat from failure tRump may lay ruin to many things. Things he knows are still within his power to ruin. If that were to happen, you would think it would prove to tRump supporters he never really cared about them, their way of life, their families, their healthcare, the horrors of a raging pandemic, protection from malevolent foreign operators. But I don’t think it’ll go down that way. Instead, I fear the Master Demagogue will too soon re-emerge, create a new social media platform, maybe allied with Q Anon, a new pulpit of his own design from which he can spew more lies. “All that ruin? Wasn’t my fault, it was the Left that did it. Sad!