Let's not start with science, let's start with math. Noooo, some of you say, not more math! This willl be fine. Let's go back to high school math class. In class they would teach exponentials by a game. Ask the student which of two options they would prefer to receive:
- a $1000 immediately
- a penny immediately. But it is a penny that doubles itself everyday for a month. That means 1 penny, will become 2 pennies on day 2, and 4 pennies on day 3. That continues for a month. (31 days).
Which one would you take? Get a calculator and hit "2" then "x^y" then 31. The answer has everything to do with the data we have about Covid cases And that means that caluclation can help you Covid19 - the worldwide pandemic phenomenon.
The PCR Machine And Covid19
The PCR machine is used to identify the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covid19 the disease. But what does the machine really do? Few actually know. Is it important we all understand the science? Well, normally it would not be. After all, how many people worry if their blood test is working when they go to a lab. But the PCR machine used to test is being misused. Before the PCR machine became used for finding pieces of coronavirus DNA fragments it had another job. It was a photocopier of DNA.
It is likely that the PCR test will have had more impact than the atomic bomb to world history. Here is a short list of what PCR has meant to the world:
- PCR test cases are used as a proxy for danger, and lockdown policies are implemented based on these tests
- PCR test positives are used to track Covid19 deaths and sometimes independently to determine cause of death
- Covid19 deaths are suggested as the reason every human being asked to take experimental therapies
- A world-wide vaccination program is being setup on the basis of PCR test cases
- Countries like Israel claim that a bio-security state must be implemented that includes PCR testing as a backbone
- Invasive random spot PCR testing in workplaces and schools is already happening
- Inter-country travel requires PCR tests and so the PCR tests is deemed as important as a passport for the right of passage.
- PCR testing is now a multibillion industry
That's pretty impactful and we're just getting started. But how does the PCR machine work?
Repeated Copying Is The Key To PCR
PCR is like a photocopy machine. A photocopy machine that is coupled with a well-paid assistant. The PCR assistant must be well paid because he is required to do mindless work. After every output from the copier, he takes the original pages and collates them together with the freshly printed ones. Then the assistant puts the entire stack back into the sheet feeder for another round of copies.
As you can see this repeated photocopying, collating, and recopying is the same as doubling of pennies. Doubling pennies everyday for a month gives you $11 million. So why would we want to photocopy viral DNA? Enter your nose.
Making Copies of Something You Can't See
Suppose in the billions of cells in your nose a Sars-Cov-2 virus floats in. If there is just one, or even a handful, or even thousands of viral particles. How do we know?
You're probably saying "test the nose". Yes, the test involves sticking a swab in the nose with a long stick, and sliding it out. Then we put the retrieved microscopic slush into a DNA photocopier (aka the PCR machine). The slush has a lot of stuff. You can't imagine how small this stuff is. For reference, a single cough of a sick person can contain 100 million viral particles. But have you ever seen a viral particle in the air after you cough. Not a one. Never. That's how small they are. So that slush will contain trillions of DNA fragments from thousands of different sources - my DNA, some pollen, some bacteria, some viruses, some molds and much more.
The PCR machine has an automated assistant that photocopies, collates and photocopies again. The reason this may work as a test, is that the PCR machine can be setup to only copy certain DNA (in practice it's not 100% selective, but that is for a future post). That selective copying could copy coronavirus fragments but not those that match your own DNA or apple DNA or amoeba DNA. In the photocopy machine analogy it is as if you throw up a bunch of pages in the air, but the machine only copies pages written by Hemingway, over and over, and over and over.
Now let's ponder what happens after thirty five cycles of photocopying. If you want to challenge yourself, get your calculator and hit "2" x^y 35" (2 to the 35th power). That tells you how many viral fragment copies you'll get from just one Sars-Cov-2 virus being in the swab, that was swiped from your nose.
After thirty-five cycles of photocopying we get 34 billion copies. That is a stunning result. One virus in your nose could be copied into 34 billion. How do scientists see what they got? A little bright glow-in-the-dark secret sauce. Fluorescent dye is tagged onto each copy which means the copies start to emit light. Then by measuring the amount of light we can start to measure how many copies. 34 billion viral particles with fluorescent light can be seen, but if only 10 million copies were made there would be a lot less light. This is how we can detect even one viral particle in your nose.
The magic of PCR is being able to take a small amount of DNA and make it detectable by making copies of it.
Don't Mistake a Penny For A Million
If someone comes up with a 3D photocopier that can photocopy pennies, does that make one a millionaire? Of course not. But let's wait a second, what we need to really ask is this. Does having one or even a few viral fragments in your nose mean you are sick and infectious? Do you have definitively have a disease?
The answer is no. And that is how you can misuse the test.
Without going to deep on viruses, virus DNA can be chopped up and killed by the body (or RNA but we'll skip over that point). Even if you had a full viral sequence of DNA in your body, that alone does not mean you are sick or infectious. The virus is not the disease. In fact, serious Covid19 disease isn't likely caused by the virus by something the immune disorder the virus triggers. Serious Covid19 is an immune system dysfunction triggered in a select group of people.
Few physicians and scientists actually understand PCR. The majority assume it is a magic test. What you need to know is this, photocopying a few Sars-Cov-2 virus particles enough times in a PCR machine can turn them into billions. Imagine saying everyone with one viral particle in their nose, with no symptoms, is a Covid case. It takes a lot of viral particles and many days to actually give you a disease.
The PCR machine is but a technology that used in the wrong way has done a lot of damage. Maybe we could call it dark magic. As much damage as a nuclear bomb? Yes. It's hard to believe but the societal cost has been immense in terms of inflated case counts and mislabeled deaths. For example, the World Bank estimates the extreme poor will grow by 150 million due to the Covid19.
How PCR Can Mislead
Let's take the example of an elderly man on the way to the ER with chest pain and breathing difficulties. He has COPD - which is to say he has chronically irritated lungs. The man stops at Starbucks for a coffee because he knows the wait will be long in the ER. A kid in front of him in line sneezes. The kid is not sick it was something tickling in the air. Notably, the kid was exposed one month agoto the virus and his natural killer cells destroyed and chopped up the virus in his nose quickly. In his nose are broken one month old viral fragments of a destroyed coronavirus - basically microscopic snot. And from his sneeze let's imagine the invisible fragment of snot tumbles into the air, and lands in the elderly man's nose. Is this gross, yes. Is it real life, yes. A single cough can contain 100 million viral particles so it is happening all the time and entirely normal.
When arriving at the hospital the elderly man he gets the standard PCR test at cycle count 40. This means 40 "photocopy cycles." A single viral fragment will PCR copy into one trillion viral particles in the machine. This may sound outrageous, and it is. The light emitted from 1 trillion copies will trip it into a Covid positive. The trick is this, the positive would mean old "broken" up virus copies. Little snippets of 50 long element fragments, not the full Covid19 virus we called SAR-COV-2. That virus is 20,000+ elements long.
Even Dr. Fauci admits the PCR misleads.
So this elderly man with COPD lights up on hospital radar as a Covid positive. A positive test means protocols are triggered in the hospital. The man's treated as contagious and he's afraid. The physicians really don't know if he really has shortness of breath from his COPD, or if he's got a virus in his lungs. The positive Covid test means everyone will assume the virus may be in play. Now the punchline. If the man dies of heart failure suddenly, will he be counted as a Covid death? Yes, he very well might be. This confusing situation is a branching off point to understand many things that have happened in the last year. The default justification is "no technology is perfect but I'm sure it works most of the time." Except the PCR machine doesn't. In most practical use, it is not working most of the time at high copy settings like 35+ cycles. It is capturing recovered people as positive, and people with a little virus as positive.
The PCR machine at high cycle ("photocopy") counts is misused. Many argue that it is worse than that, going so far as to say it is a fraudulent use of the technology. And why is that? Because the machine is an amazing photocopier.
This confusing situation was never lost on the inventor of the PCR machine Kerry Mullis. We'd like to think of him as one of us - a Discovery Scientist - because he worked across domains. Dr. Mullis won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for PCR. Listen to his comments and take them with intense pause.
The PCR machine is really just a giant photocopier.
That's the take away. Spend time to understand it, when it clicks for you, a lot more will start to fall into place. This is crucial first step to understanding Covid19 and why the world's statistics are on the current disease are on shaky ground.
Our Discovery Science team stands by our work on a "forever" basis. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org for important comments, inaccuracies, or notable additions.