While the world hyperventilates over the future British royal starting to crawl, the largest Ebola outbreak ever has his West Africa. Over a hundred deaths, with more than two-thirds mortality from this rapid killer. The virus hit Guinea and Liberia, including Guinea’s major city of Guekedou. Usually the virus comes from “bushmeat,” local primates and bats people eat for food. In The Highest Frontier, I imagined Ebola virions printing out from 3D printers.
What is Ebola virus; and how does it turn the body into blood pudding?
The virus particle consists of a coiled RNA molecule (not DNA, but RNA, which we usually know as a cellular copy of DNA). But many deadly viruses have RNA genomes. The Ebola virus particle fuses with the membrane of a host cell, such as a monocyte (a white blood cell). Then the viral RNA uses host ribosomes to make proteins that trick the cell into producing more Ebola virions. Furthermore, the virus makes proteins that inhibit the immune system, both adaptive immunity (antibodies) and innate immunity (interferons).
In later stages, the newly released Ebola virions infect endothelial cells (interior of blood vessels). The endothelial cells fall away, destabilizing the blood vessels and causing massive bleeding. Various toxic shock effects occur as well.
Ebola virus is a surprisingly simple entity, with only seven genes in its genome. Amazing for all the sophisticated damage it causes, and the multiple ways of blocking the immune system.