50 years ago, scientists realized the power of bacteriophages | Science News


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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, scientists were unlocking the secrets of bacteria-infecting viruses

Excerpt from the April 5, 1969 issue of Science News

6:00am, April 5, 2019
virus replication

VALUED TOOL  By tweaking the genetic instructions of the bacteriophage M13, scientists can coax the virus to produce human antibodies to treat disease, materials to make biological batteries and more.

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Science News cover from April 5, 1969
Unusual virus is valuable tool

Viruses, which cannot reproduce on their own, infect cells and usurp their genetic machinery for use in making new viruses.... But just how viruses use the cell machinery is unknown.… Some answers may come from work with an unusual virus, called M13, that has a particularly compatible relationship with ... [E. coli] bacteria. — Science News, April 5, 1969


M13 did help unlock secrets of viral replication. Some bacteria-infecting viruses, called bacteriophages or simply phages, kill the host cell after hijacking the cell’s machinery to make copies of themselves. Other phages, including M13, leave the cell intact. Scientists are using phage replication to develop drugs and technologies, such as virus-powered batteries (SN: 4/25/09, p. 12). Adding genetic instructions to phage DNA for making certain molecules lets some phages produce antibodies against diseases such as lupus and cancer. The technique, called phage display, garnered an American-British duo the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry (SN: 10/27/18, p. 16).


Science News Staff. Unusual virus is a valuable tool. Science News. Vol. 95, April 5, 1969, p. 334.

Further Reading

L. Hamers and M. Temming. Speeding up evolution to create useful proteins wins the chemistry Nobel. Science News. Vol. 194, October 27, 2018, p. 16.

S. Barazesh. Viruses could power devices. Science News. Vol. 175, April 25, 2009, p. 12.

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