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The Surprising Benefits of Viruses in Science

Jul 06,2021 by Edulab

We are all familiar with what viruses are and have experienced first-hand the devastation they can have across the globe. The Coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging time for all of us and has painted viruses in the worst possible light.

However, viruses are not all doom and gloom. Viruses are very powerful; they can take over a cell quickly and duplicate their virus DNA time and time again. It is this impressive power that makes them so dangerous, yet also so full of potential for good.

Scientists have been able to harness the skills that viruses possess and use them to discover more about, and even improve human health. Today, we are looking at some of the surprising benefits that viruses have and the positive impact that they have had on our lives.

Viruses Helped Uncover DNA

Many of us take the fact that DNA is the code to life for granted, but 70 years ago, scientists were not so sure. A lot of science professionals believed that our genetic materials were contained within proteins in our body. A virus known as Bacteriophage T2 was used to prove that it was actually DNA that held all our genetic make-up. Often referred to as the Hershey-Chase experiments, scientists Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase were the brainpower behind this discovery.

The T2 virus copies itself by injecting its genetics directly into bacteria and taking over the cells in order to reproduce. Two separate lots of radioactive T2 viruses were let loose on bacteria, and one contained glowing DNA while the other had glowing protein. The scientists soon learnt that infected bacteria would only light up when it was exposed to the luminous DNA. This proved once and for all that DNA had been passed on to the other cells and that the glowing protein was discarded by the virus.

Genetic Engineering and Viruses

Genetic engineering allows scientists to genetically change cells in almost any living organism, including humans. Bacteriophages work by injecting their DNA into bacteria, and in the 1980s, scientists learned that bacteria have their own natural defence system. They discovered how to use this system as a way of engineering DNA. Known as CRISPR/Cas9, this method is a fast, cheap and accurate way of manipulating DNA in a laboratory. It works similarly to a ‘search and replace’ tool in software and can be used to effectively train cells to look for specific genes. These genes can then be disabled or even repaired if they are faulty. A large number of scientists are confident that CRISPR/Cas9 will be able to be used as treatment for common diseases.

Viruses Are Supporting Our Ecosystems

Bacteriophages are not just useful for genetic engineering or the discovery of DNA; they are also critical to our entire ecosystem. These types of viruses are essentially predators to the bacterial world, and without them, our entire ecosystem would suffer. This is especially true in the ocean, where 90% of the life is microbial. The microbes in the sea are responsible for producing around 50% of the oxygen in the world, and the process is only possible thanks to viruses.

Viruses destroy about a fifth of the microbes in the ocean and around half of the bacteria every day. By getting rid of these microbes, oxygen-producing plankton is left with enough nutrients to support high rates of photosynthesis. This simply wouldn’t be possible without the work of the viruses.

Scientists have also discovered that a similar process works within insect pests and that viruses are crucial for species control. When one species is overpopulated, a virus often comes along and wipes a large number of them out. Without viruses, we would lose a considerable amount of biodiversity across the globe.

The misconception that viruses exist just to harm us and wreak havoc on our world is one that many people have fallen for. But the truth is, our world would not survive without viruses, and many significant advances and discoveries in science would never have been possible.

As we continue to battle the current COVID-19 pandemic, bear in mind that viruses are not all bad and are a critical part of our way of life. It is still essential we properly protect ourselves from Coronavirus, and at EduLab, we have a range of COVID testing products available. We can help with testing pods for workplaces, schools and test centres, as well as signage and partition walls.

Using Centrifuges for Virus Samples

A vital piece of lab equipment in various type of laboratories, centrifuges can be used for many different research purposes such as cell separation, protein purification, separating liquids based on density and virus analysis.

Scientists use centrifugation to cleanse the virus sample to separate it from and cell debris and other small molecules. They can be filtered further and more concentrated by using a centrifuge with high speeds.

For more information on centrifuges, check out our ultimate guide or feel free to contact EduLab’s specialist team, who have the knowledge and experience support all of your needs.