Let the virus “work” for humans

  Speaking of viruses, we often smell it, but we don’t know that in the hands of scientists, viruses have a magical effect.
‘Hire’ virus to work

  MIT biologist Angela Belcher is a veteran of “hiring” viruses to work. During his Ph.D. study, Belcher studied the mechanism by which abalone forms its shell and found that abalone secretes a protein that forces calcium carbonate molecules to align, forming a hard shell. Belcher thought that calcium carbonate is an inorganic compound, and many inorganic compounds are used in industry, so can she find organisms like abalone that can control inorganic substances and make them work as workers?
  After many inspections and trials, Belcher selected an excellent “worker” – the M13 phage. The M13 bacteriophage, a bacteria-infested and harmless virus, is “slim”, with a single strand of DNA encapsulated in a cylindrical protein shell with several other types of proteins at either end. Belcher found that the proteins on the sides and ends of the same bacteriophage can adsorb different molecules, and the molecules adsorbed by different bacteriophages are also different. She can find the most suitable bacteriophage to bind to a certain molecule through experiments: put the bacteriophage into A beaker containing a certain substance, and then increasing the acidity of the solution, washes away the phages that cannot bind to the substance, and repeats this many times to find the best phage.

Angela Belcher and her source of inspiration – abalone shells

  In addition to this clumsy approach, the development of genetic engineering has helped Belcher a lot. Using genetic engineering to change the proteins on both ends of the phage, Belcher can mass-produce phages that can bond to different molecules, and the proteins on the sides of the phage also have adsorption capabilities. Using these phages as bridges, billions of species can be produced. Structure of various special functions.
make virus battery

  The first job of a phage “worker” is to make batteries. Traditional lithium-ion rechargeable batteries often use lithium compounds as the positive electrode material and graphite as the negative electrode material. When lithium ions flow from the negative electrode to the positive electrode through the electrolyte, the battery will generate electricity, while the ion flow is reversed during charging. To improve the efficiency of the battery, a higher concentration of electrolyte needs to be used, which increases the cost of the battery and is not friendly to the environment. The addition of viruses can change this situation.
  From a number of engineered phages, Belcher found the most suitable ones for adsorbing cobalt oxide and iron phosphate, which can be used to make the positive and negative electrodes of batteries, respectively. The researchers put the corresponding phages into the compound solution, and the phages were “gold-plated” all over the body. These phages can even be connected to each other to form wires several centimeters long, which can be woven into thin films. These films are stacked into a sandwich structure, filled with water, and a viral lithium battery is made.
  The advantages of viral lithium batteries are obvious. Compared with traditional lithium batteries, viral lithium batteries are more easily degraded, and because the manufacturing process requires relatively less equipment, viral lithium batteries are also cheaper. Moreover, the distance between the electrodes of the viral lithium battery is very short, which also makes charging and discharging faster. In addition, phages can bind to the surface of various materials, resulting in lighter and smaller batteries that can be used in tiny electronic devices.

virus battery

List of bacteriophage uses

  Of course, its shortcomings are also very prominent. The phage used as a connecting bridge is too small, and the positive and negative materials that can be carried are very limited, which directly leads to a small battery power. Currently, it can only power small devices such as LED lights, flashlights, and laser pointers. However, Belcher did not give up. In recent years, carbon nanotubes, perovskite semiconductors and other electrode materials have emerged one after another, and phages are used to connect them into batteries. The performance of the battery has also been greatly improved. In the future, if the ability to transform phages can be further improved Production, viral lithium batteries may be able to meet with you.
Improve storage performance

  Soon Belcher found a second job for phages: improving storage performance.
  Phase-change memory is an ideal computer memory, which changes the state of the storage material by switching current and magnetic fields to flash data. Compared with other memories, phase-change memory has the advantages of large storage capacity, fast storage speed, and even if the power is turned off, the stored data will not disappear. Therefore, phase-change memory almost defeated other traditional memories as soon as it appeared. However, the phase change memory has a technical difficulty that is difficult to solve, and its raw materials and manufacturing processes have irreconcilable contradictions.
  A commonly used raw material for phase change memory is called gallium antimonide, which is an indispensable raw material for the realization of the memory function. However, gallium antimonide will decompose when the temperature reaches about 347 ℃, and thus lose its function, and the manufacturing process of phase change memory needs to use the temperature above 347 ℃. The contradiction between the two has not been solved for a long time. A major manufacturing difficulty of phase change memory.
  The emergence of bacteriophage solved this contradiction, which directly replaced gallium antimonide. Belcher’s team created a phage that can adsorb germanium tin oxide, and under the action of the phage, can quickly form a nano-scale germanium tin oxide wire. Braided into a block of these wires, it could replace gallium antimonide as the main raw material for phase-change memory. The decomposition critical point of germanium tin oxide is about 447 ℃, and when it is used to manufacture phase change memory, there is no need to worry about the problem of decomposition failure.
Detect “system” vulnerabilities

  Another wonderful use of phage adsorption is to detect vulnerabilities. There is a phage that can adsorb the semiconductor material gallium arsenide, but is not sensitive to its “closer” gallium nitride, so adding this phage to gallium nitride electronic components will not affect its performance, which allows it to be used. to detect defects on the chip. When making chips from gallium nitride crystals, if the crystal atoms are not properly bonded, tiny pores are created in local locations, and the accumulation of these pores over time can deform the chip and ultimately affect its electrical properties. Adding bacteriophages to the chip, the phages would accumulate in the pores in large numbers, and if the phages were fluorescently labeled, we could observe the defect with a microscope.
  Not only the loopholes in electronic components, but also the loopholes in the human body – tumor cells can also be detected by phages. Gold, silver and other metal nanoparticles are first adsorbed on one end of the phage. After these particles receive energy, they will excite fluorescence with high intensity and good stability, which can be easily detected. Injecting these phages into the body allows doctors to detect tumor cells by detecting fluorescence when the phages attach to proteins in tumor cells. With this method, tumor masses as small as half a millimeter can be found, while traditional CT scans can only detect tumors as small as 1 cm in diameter, which is of great significance to cancer patients, because early detection and early treatment are important conditions to improve the cure rate of cancer.
  Don’t talk about “poison” anymore. Correctly understand and use viruses, they can also play a huge role.