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Can viruses cure can­cer?

Sci­en­tists at Duke University in North Carolina have found a way to use the po­lio virus as a weapon against glioblas­toma, the most com­mon and most ag­gres­sive form of brain can­cer. To do so, they ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied the virus so that it could only mul­ti­ply in tu­mour cells, not in healthy tis­sue. The virus cre­ated as a re­sult, known as PVS-RIPO, is in­jected di­rectly into the tu­mour ( area shaded red, above). The virus then fights the can­cer in two ways: it di­rectly de­stroys the tu­mour cells and stim­u­lates the im­mune sys­tem to find and attack the in­fected can­cer cells. The ther­apy was first tested on hu­mans in 2011 and has al­ready achieved promis­ing re­sults.

How long can a virus sur­vive without a host?

Most viruses can only re­main ac­tive for a few hours out­side of a host, but the norovirus ( above) is a sur­vivor – the vom­it­ing bug has been found on a car­pet af­ter 12 days. The virus can also with­stand ex­treme cli­mates, ex­ist­ing hap­pily in a tem­per­a­ture range of mi­nus 20 to plus 60 de­grees Cel­sius. Added to that, the norovirus is also ex­tremely mu­ta­ble, as well as highly adapt­able. Every two to three years a new strain de­vel­ops, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for re­searchers to de­velop a vac­cine against the pathogen.

Do viruses keep the sea healthy?

Sci­en­tists have re­cently dis­cov­ered that viruses act as the ocean’s im­mune sys­tem. Every day they kill bac­te­ria and al­gae so that the ocean’s bal­ance is not dis­turbed. “If there were no viruses, the world’s oceans would clog up. Bac­te­ria and al­gae would grow and grow and by the end you’d have an ocean full of sludge,” ex­plains marine bi­ol­o­gist Willie Wil­son from the Bigelow Lab­o­ra­tory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. Viruses also reg­u­late bio­di­ver­sity ( lu­mi­nes­cent plank­ton, be­low). When a pop­u­la­tion grows too large, it be­comes sus­cep­ti­ble to in­fec­tions.

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