As the UK’s vaccination programme hits the headlines, Ronnie Cohen takes a look at the microscopic elements that are affected by viruses and the vaccines developed to fight them.
First, we should consider the size of the coronavirus, which is microscopic in size. The Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, COVID) is a virus that is 120 nanometres (billionths of a metre) across.
Human red blood cells typically have a diameter of 6-8 micrometres (millionths of a metre) across, are 2-2.5 micrometres at their thickest point and 0.8-1 micrometres at the thinnest point. Human white blood cells are 12-17 micrometres in diameter. Most bacteria are 0.2-10 micrometres in diameter. On average, bacteria contain approximately 2 million proteins per cell. Dimensions of DNA are measured in nanometres. The size of an antibody molecule is about 10 nanometres across. Antibodies are used by the immune system to fight pathogens and viruses. A vaccine for COVID-19 helps the immune system to recognise the threat of COVID-19 to fight off the disease.
Understanding the coronavirus and its effects on humans involves research into its effects on various microscopic properties. These properties are measured in metric units because the metric system has been designed to measure the smallest and largest elements in the universe which are beyond the scope of the imperial system. The metric system is far superior to the imperial system at both ends of the scale in this respect. This research is essential in the development of vaccines, which involves many different measurements (e.g. quantities of ingredients, cell sizes, blood samples, etc.). As this article has illustrated, some of these measurements are extremely small.