You know what really grinds my gears? The fact that there are people who would tamper with my site, and give it a virus or something. Everything’s fine now, but what gives? Did they get really frustrated when they Googled “great tits” and found a link to my post about the correlations between brain size and sociability? And then instead of just, y’know, closing the tab with my site, they wasted time in their lives (and, ultimately, in mine) to do something purely malicious? “Arg, down with science, RAWR!!!” *Eye roll*
So, for today, I’m going to turn the negative energyaround, and use it as motivation to give you a post all about some different types of biological viruses out there. Because they’re actually incredibly interesting and sci-fi-ish, in that they can take over your cells and use them for their own selfish purposes, even though they’re not technically “alive.” Plus, there’s all sorts of cool new science in the works to outsmart viruses and shut down their operations.
Oh, and one more thing — haters of all kinds (hateful commenters, hateful hackers, and whoever else), well, they may be able to bring down my spirits temporarily, or even bring down my site, but at the end of the day it means I’m awesome enough that somebody got worked up about it.
2. The retrovirus. Ah, the retrovirus, a classic. He’s got a traditional virus structure: a head, where he holds his genetic information, and a tail with tail fibers so he can position himself on certain types of cells. What does he do once he’s in position on the cell? He injects his genetic material into it so that the cell is tricked into encoding more viruses just like the original, until the cell is full of viruses. At this point the cell explodes, releasing lots more retroviruses to repeat the process.
It goes something like this:
At this point, the retrovirus could probably leave if he wanted. The damage has been done. Your cell starts to take those viral genes and make virus parts.
Those viruses just build up in that cell until it’s too much — the cell explodes. The vicious cycle repeats as the new viruses seek out other unsuspecting cells. Assuming these cells are important, this situation really sucks.
(Other viruses don’t have names that lend themselves so easily to parody, I’m sorry.)
2a. The lentivirus (subtype of retroviruses). I have used my powers of foresight to understand that a cartoon of a virus dressed as the Pope (with whom I have no qualms) could be deeply offensive to some readers. However, the “lent” in “lentivirus” makes me think of Catholicism. In any case, a lentivirus is a type of retrovirus, so everything that the retrovirus did above, the lentivirus does as well. The key difference between the two is that lentiviruses take significantly more time before ultimately bursting out of a cell with new viruses, and they can pack tons of viral genes into a host cell.
A lentivirus you probably know already is HIV! HIV, as in the virus that usually leads to AIDS. HIV hijacks immune cells, and when someone loses too many immune cells, they have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. This is unfortunate because people with AIDS can die even from simple infections that wouldn’t phase most healthy people. People with HIV infection are often given protease inhibitors, because proteases act as the enzyme that glues all those pieces of viruses together to make functioning viruses.
Marijuana, which is already prescribed to AIDS-sufferers to alleviate pain and increase appetite, has recently been shown to actually inhibit the HIV virus itself in late-stage AIDS patients. The mechanism of how marijuana may be able to help slow or stop the spread of HIV in late-stage AIDS is kind of complex, but a fairly layman’s terms article can be found here.
3. Adenoviruses. If you can come up with a better witty cartoon for adenoviruses, please let me know. Like, really, leave a comment. Also, it’s pronounced “ad-n-oh-vy-ruhs,” just so you don’t go around talking about “aid-noh-vy-ruhses” and sounding like a noob. The essential feature of adenoviruses is that they don’t have the encasement, or viral envelope, that surrounds the heads of other types of viruses. The viral envelope (found on retroviruses, for example) is just something to help the virus fuse to the surface of a cell, so that the virus can get in easier. This simply means that adenoviruses (which usually cause upper respiratory tract infections) find their way into cells differently than other viruses do, but once they get their genes into the cells, it’s the same tragic story all over again.
An adenovirus looks like this:
And it uses the knobs at the ends of those rod-like things to bind cell receptors and make cells think it’s okay to take the virus in. It’s like the cell gets biologically Punk’d. Except the virus doesn’t come out from backstage at the end and tell the cell it’s not really dead…the cell is dead.
So, as you can see, viruses of any kind, like the ones that hurt your website or the ones that kill you, are no fun. While this post has been a gross oversimplification of viruses and their mechanisms of infection, there’s plenty of reading out there if you want to learn more. And knowing how viruses work is probably the best way to start figuring out how to stop them.
Stay nerdy (And let’s make this post go viral, eh?!)
P.S. Be the hipsterest hipster in town: get Try Nerdy gear from our online store!
Deu E, Verdoes M, & Bogyo M (2012). New approaches for dissecting protease functions to improve probe development and drug discovery. Nature structural & molecular biology, 19 (1), 9-16 PMID: 22218294
Costantino CM, Gupta A, Yewdall AW, Dale BM, Devi LA, & Chen BK (2012). Cannabinoid Receptor 2-Mediated Attenuation of CXCR4-Tropic HIV Infection in Primary CD4+ T Cells. PloS one, 7 (3) PMID: 22448282