2446: Spike Proteins
Title text: Ugh, it's stuck to my laptop. It must have bound to the ACER-2 receptor.
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This is also another comic about the current vaccine against COVID-19. A vaccine is designed to provoke an immune response from the body of the recipient, which "trains" the immune system to attack actual viruses (or bacteria). For COVID-19, the spike protein, necessary for the virus to bind a receptor on human cells and invade them, is the key protein for an immune response. Almost all vaccines approved for human use pre-COVID actually contain either inactivated pathogen (e.g., flu vaccine), live but safe pathogen variants (e.g., measles), or some protein from the pathogen that the immune system can respond to (e.g., pertussis). The four COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States or the European Union as of the date of this comic, however, are all a relatively new type of vaccine that instead cause human cells to temporarily produce spike proteins, which the immune system then "learns" to attack. The Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine use a technique first approved for the July 2020 Ebola vaccine, in which a genetically modified adenovirus is used to deliver DNA to the nuclei of the vaccine recipients' cells, which convert the DNA to Messenger RNA (mRNA). The recipients' cells then use the mRNA as instructions to produce spike proteins. The Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are of an even newer type: mRNA vaccines, which directly inject the mRNA into the body for the cells to use, and never have to enter the cell nuclei.
After receiving the vaccine, as he informs Cueball and Megan, he claims he will now go away to make spike proteins. For him, this literally means that he (not his cells) will build them, by unexplained means. When he returns he is carrying his constructed protein, which is roughly 8 orders of magnitude larger than the normal version. He then drops it on the desk, where a laptop is being used. Cueball part-closes his screen to try to prevent the mass from landing on it - though he's only partially successful.
When a normal living body is coerced into making a spike protein, they are microscopic particles that distribute internally around the body to provoke an immune response. Beret Guy's macroscopic version provokes an understandable response of both disgust and confusion from both Cueball and Megan, who choose to ask why it is so wet. Proteins are highly hydrated molecules where water — through the moderation of its presence and absence in specific locations — plays a central role in shaping the structure and function of the protein (although it is not clear how Beret Guy knows that the spike protein should be hydrated since this is his first try). Though, of the many questions that might have been asked, it is not an entirely unreasonable snap reaction.
Beret Guy remains typically oblivious to the fuss he causes. His enthusiastic intention, apparently, is to leave his first proud creation there as he departs to construct further examples. They will likely be no less unwelcome.
Anything damp and squidgy (as this creation seems to be) would not be welcome around a laptop, for a number of reasons, and Beret Guy seems to have made a particularly messy contact with the part of the case where most such devices are likely to have clusters of unruggedised ports/connections that may not react well to the ingress of liquids.
The title text is a pun on Acer, ACER2, and ACE2. Acer is a brand of computers including laptops. The ACE2 receptor, is an entry point on a cell to which the SARS-COV-2 virus attaches during the process of entering the cell. ACER2 is a real enzyme in humans which, although unrelated to ACE2 or SARS-COV-2, may also help bind the pun together.
- [Cueball is sitting in an office chair at a desk with an open laptop in front of him. Megan stands behind him looking over his shoulder. Beret Guy is in front of the desk, walking away and looking back at the two while holding a hand to his shoulder, where he got the vaccine shot.]
- Beret Guy: Got the vaccine!
- Megan: Congrats!
- Beret Guy: Time to go make spike proteins.
- [Cueball continues to work on his laptop while Megan is looking on.]
- [In a frameless, narrow panel, Beret Guy walks back carrying a large object in his arms that looks like a spike protein. But it is about half as long as he is tall, fluffy and dripping wet, flexing slightly along its length, with the Y-shaped head pointed forwards, away from Beret Guy]
- Beret Guy: OK!
- Beret Guy: Here's my first try.
- [Beret Guy drops the spike protein onto Cueball's desk with the Y-shaped end on the desk up against the back of Cueball's laptop. The movement is shown with several lines and a sound follows when it hits the desk. The head of it takes up the entire desk area not covered by the laptop, while the tail overhangs the desk. Cueball is grabbing the lid and base of his laptop with both hands, pulling it partially closed and away from the spike protein, and Megan reflexively leans away.]
- Spike Protein: Plop
- [Beret Guy turns to leave, with an outstretched finger pointing skyward. The overhanging part of the spike protein has sagged, and it is dripping some wet material over both the floor and desk. Cueball is sitting with his hands on the partially closed laptop, Megan stands normally again.]
- Beret Guy: More!
- Cueball: Ewww.
- Megan: Why is it so wet??
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