One of our staff scholars, Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts, is a virologist and molecular biologist. I have heard her speak several times on viruses and their connection to the Christian faith. It is an outstanding talk. She brilliantly explains why, on every biological and medical level, we need to thank God for viruses.
As one trained in the physical sciences, I am interested in how viruses play a critical role in the water cycle, in geochemical cycles, and in geophysics.1 Now, a chemist, Bogdan Dragnea at Indiana University, has written a review article wherein he explains how viruses are helping engineers to make major advances in nanotechnology.2
Nanotechnology is the manufacture of machines and systems of machines on atomic and molecular scales. Such manufacture is considered nanotechnology in that scientists are building devices and machines that measure in size from 1 to 100 nanometers. (1 nanometer = one billionth of a meter. The diameter of a helium atom = 0.1 nanometers. The diameter of a ribosome molecule is about 20 nanometers.) Such devices and machines already have yielded breakthroughs in medicine, electronics, and computers.
In his article, Dragnea explains how chemists have developed assembly-line factories for manufacturing nanomachines where they use different viruses and virus shells as scaffolds, templates, and assemblers. Dragnea also shows how nanotechnologists have used viruses as actual components in the nanomachines they are constructing.
Chemists and nanotechnologists are busy surveying the over 100,000,000 different viruses3 for the most useful scaffolds, templates, and assemblers. Their goal is to exploit these viruses to build an array of molecular circuit boards, molecular chemical reactors and engines, molecular magnetic and photonics beacons, and molecular machines that can transport therapeutic devices to destroy cancers and repair damaged tissues and organs throughout the human body.
While nanotechnologists have made considerable progress in using selected viruses and virus shells to manufacture the nanomachines they desire, they currently face a scalability problem. To be effective, most of the medical and electronic applications require the manufacture of thousands, if not millions, of identical nanomachines. Some applications demand the integration and organization of thousands of different nanomachines. Thus, current research is focusing just as much on boosting the scalability and sustainability of manufacturing very large numbers of nanomachines as it is on designing brand new ones.
It is thanks to viruses that humanity is on the verge of a nanomachine revolution. Such a revolution may well be the next big technological leap forward and gives humans yet another reason to be grateful that God created a world with such a great abundance and diversity of viruses.