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What do you think about viruses?

  1. Jul 23, 2011 #1
    Its a bit open-ended but I think there are a lot of clever people here and I'd like to know their thoughts on this topic. viruses as in the parasitic/biology kind. like, what areas of virus research do you think will be important? what new advances have there been recently thats exciting? where is the potential in virology?

    some topics that I think are interesting:

    viruses and nanotechnology. I dont know much about nanotechnology but I see viruses as programmable 'factories' which could possibly be used to produce nanotechnology-related things? is that too sci-fi?

    viruses in the sea. I dont know how they are important, but there are so many of them that they must be. but what effects do they have and how to use them for human benefit?

    bacteriophages and antibiotics. There must be things we can learn from the phages to make better antibiotics. but has this already been done?

    ok, let me know what you think!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2011 #2


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    This idea is definitely not too sci-fi as researchers are already using the capacity for viruses to self-assemble into nanostructures in order to fabricate new materials like batteries. See for example the following TED talk by MIT Professor of Chemistry Angela Belcher: http://www.ted.com/speakers/angela_belcher.html

    Areas of virus research that I'm interested in (aside from the obvious health related issues) are using viruses as model systems to study some of the basic biological processes that lead to complexity in biology. Viruses are complex enough to be considered by some (but not all scientists) as "living systems," yet simple enough to also be considered chemical systems (some of which can even be synthesized from scratch). Some viruses provide good model systems for studying processes like self-assembly, for example. In addition, the biochemical machinery of viruses is often simpler than the corresponding cellular machinery and can provided researchers with nice model systems to study. For example, the T4 replisome is much simpler than the cellular machinery used for DNA replication in either humans or bacteria. Biochemical studies of the T4 replisome (many of which are ongoing) are helping understand how the different components of this multiprotein complex work together to catalyze a very complicated, multi-step chemical reaction.

    There is also emerging research to suggest that retroelements in our genomes, originally derived from retroviruses, may be important for the proper functioning and development of the brain (see for example http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6027/300.full) although this claim remains controversial and many more studies need to be done to really figure out what's going on in this area.

    There are definitely a ton of other exciting areas of research surrounding viruses that I've left out, but I believe I've said enough to substantiate the claim that viruses are awesome!
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2011
  4. Jul 23, 2011 #3


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    Interesting question. Nanotechnology is any technology that has been specifically engineered on the nanoscale, that's 1-100nm. By specific engineering I mean that this engineering creates the desired function.

    Viruses don't tend to make anything*, if you like they are less like other life and more like natural nanoparticles. There are many other potential ways viruses could help us though, the most obvious use is for gene therapy as viruses have naturally evolved to insert RNA or DNA into other cells.

    The idea of phage therapy is one that has been around for a long while but has not been approved anywhere else but some former soviet union countries IIRC due to the huge obstacles such as activating the bodies anti-viral immune responses. Funnily enough though a lot of modern nanomedicine research focuses on similar lines, trying to make self assembling nanoparticles that specifically target certain infections.

    *though Ygggdrasil has pointed out one of the cases where they have been used for such
  5. Jul 24, 2011 #4
    Self assembling DNA nanostructures propogated via retroviruses are definitely plausible.





    Those last 2 should be of particular interest. Those complex structures are the result of automated self-assembly of specific DNA single strands. Viruses could be used to replicate the required sequences, which would then self assemble.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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