Do you know how much DNA is inside just one of your cells? One cell holds about 2-3 meters of DNA. That means each individual cell in my body has enough DNA to stretch taller than me! Then think about how I have ~1013 cells in my body and that’s A LOT of DNA! How does it all fit? ALL of that is somehow bundled up nice and tight so that it fits into my body. That’s amazing!
DNA has a specific way of packing into a cell so tightly. The strands of DNA are wrapped tightly around histones to create a nucleosome. Then those nucleosomes are packed together to create a chromatin fiber, and that fiber all coiled up is what gives us the chromosomes we are used to seeing.
Bacteriophages (a type of virus) are a bit different. Their sole purpose is to duplicate, so they don’t have all the extra inner workings of normal cells. For this reason, it’s basically just a shell with DNA packed inside. There is very little extra space inside the head of the virus where the DNA is housed. (poorly diagrammed here)
How the virus gets all of that DNA inside the little shell is actually a big problem for scientists that is currently without an answer. A lot of diagrams show it spinning up into the shell like a ball of yarn, but the amount of pressure that this would generate inside the shell is much higher than the measured pressure inside actual viruses. In the lab I was in for my graduate work, one of my colleagues was using computer simulations to see if there was some packing technique that we hadn’t considered that might also help to lower the pressure. Her findings were quite interesting, and her estimates got a lot closer to the measured amounts.
Even with her new estimates, she still wasn’t able to get the numbers down to the measured pressure seen in nature. Basically, after all this research, we still don’t know how the virus fits all of that DNA in there. As we go through this first week of Easter, I feel like the virus. But instead of being filled to the brim with DNA, I am filled with JOY! I don’t know how one could possibly fit all of this joy into my one body.
Easter is always a time of joy. It is the season of the year when we really focus on Christ’s victory over sin and death and just how powerful it truly was. All of us spend our lives with the goal of heaven, the dream of that perfect union. We know that, thanks to Christ’s resurrection, when we die, we can go to heaven! Sometimes we might not appreciate this, but for all the people before the time of Christ, that wasn’t an option yet. They were waiting for Him to free them on Holy Saturday and take them up to heaven. Think of Moses and Elijah and their centuries of waiting before Christ won that victory.
What an amazing joy that must have been. Now all of us are able to go to heaven; now the grave means nothing. We are not stuck in our death and our sin. That perfect joy is attainable, and He wants it for all of us. That pure unadulterated joy when thinking of His victory comes around every year, but then this year we had even more to be joyful about!
I’ve seen so many jokes of “Lent 2020 is finally over!” As much as they are jokes, it definitely feels like it’s sort of true. During this past Holy Week/Triduum/Easter Sunday, I spent a lot of time reflecting on Easter last year and how strange it was. I thought about how for almost a year, I didn’t go to Sunday Mass in person. Palm Sunday was the first Sunday Mass I was able to attend, and those feelings of joy came rushing over me. It was weird not getting to fully participate for so long, but I didn’t fully comprehend how much I had missed the Eucharist, how much I had longed to sit in the pews and be a part of this joyful community.
This Easter I have been reminded of the joy of Christ’s victory over the grave. I have been reminded of the joy that it is to be able to celebrate in person. I am completely overwhelmed by the joy it is to be a Christian. I am bursting at the seams with this joy. I know that there is still a lot of pain in this world, but I hope that you are able to find that joy in this Easter season. I pray that you allow it to fill you up, like the virus, even more than you think it should possibly be able to! We as Christians are an Easter people. We must live in this joy and let it reverberate to every aspect of our lives. We will have troubles in life, but God is greater than all of them. He is greater than our pain, he is CERTAINLY greater than this pandemic, and he proved, once again, last Sunday that he is greater than sin and death. I will shout this joy on every roof top! I cannot contain it to myself!