Viruses That Build

It is becoming possible to genetically engineer viruses to accomplish some kind of healing or rebuilding or even contstruction-like task.

A Virus That Rebuilds Damaged Nerves

Viruses that mimic supportive nerve tissue may someday help regenerate injured spinal cords. While other tissue-engineering materials must be synthesized and shaped in the lab, genetically engineered viruses have the advantage of being self-replicating and self-assembling. They can be designed to express cell-friendly proteins on their surfaces and, with a little coaxing, be made into complex tissuelike structures. Preliminary studies show that scaffolds made using a type of virus called a bacteriophage (or phage) that infects bacteria but cannot invade animal cells can support the growth and organization of nerve cells.

Researchers working on tissue engineering hope to eventually be able to use a patient’s own cells to grow replacement tissue for damaged hearts, livers, and nerves. But mimicking the structure and function of the body’s tissue has proved difficult. Matrices of supportive, fibrous proteins sustain the cells of the heart, lungs, and other tissues in the body. These scaffolds provide both structural support and chemical signals that enable an organ or nerve tissue to function properly.

Using viruses to build self-assembled nanoscale batteries

The lithography techniques we rely on to give us the latest in electronics are getting more expensive and technically challenging with each new process shrink. A number of researchers are now looking into whether we can solve some of the problems by turning to biology. Biological systems self-assemble into complex, ordered structures on the nanometer scale, all at room temperature and with cheap ingredients. The latest development in biology-based circuity comes courtesy of researchers at MIT who have crafted a battery with an anode wired-up using a virus. But that’s probably not even the best part—these nanoscale batteries can be printed onto most conducting surfaces.

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