allAfrica.com allafrica.com 29 Jan, 2021 10:00 am

Africa: The Body's Fight Against Covid-19 Explained Using 3D-Printed Models

Analysis - Editor's note: In this interview, Nathan Ahlgren, assistant professor of biology at Clark University, uses 3D-printed models to explain what proteins do in viruses, how they interact with human cells, how the vaccine delivers mRNA into the cell, and how antibodies protect us. This follows an earlier article in which he explained what proteins are and the wide range of functions they have in the body.

What is the function of the spike protein?The spike protein has two functions - recognizing and attaching to the cell, and then allowing the virus's genetic material to get into the cell by fusing with the cell membrane.The tip of the spike protein is going to recognize another protein that's on a human cell's surface.Once it recognizes an ACE-2 protein, there's a complicated process in which the spike protein actually unfolds a long, thin structure to stick into the plasma membrane of the cell and fuse the plasma membranes of the virus and the cell.

It all has to do with the shapes, chemical composition and the charge of the atoms on the spike protein and the ACE-2 protein.The surface of the spike protein is going to recognize the ACE-2 protein, like a puzzle piece that fits just right, or a lock and key.

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