10 Viruses That Actually Benefit Mankind

10 Viruses That Actually Benefit Mankind 10 Virus VS Virus Okay, with the new normal of 2020, you say virus, and your mind goes straight to the worst possible scenario

Not to add pressure but, according to the scientific journal Nature, did you know there are more viruses than stars in the universe? But don’t panic ‘cause viruses aren’t necessarily bad They can, in fact, benefit humankind in various ways For example, one of the many possibilities is using viruses to fight other viruses Recent studies are focusing their attention right on this matter Last year, a team of researchers in the US discovered that rhesus virus and SIV – simian immunodeficiency virus – in monkeys, could be destroyed by a similar virus: the rhesus cytomegalovirus

Given the similarities, the virus could be manipulated to produce the same proteins as SIV By doing this, the virus would become a vaccine itself against the other virus, “teaching” the monkey's immune system how to fight off the SIV This, like many other studies, are particularly important because they can help to find alternative treatments to immunodeficiency viruses, such as HIV, as well as a potential cure to the COVID-19 9 The Mouse Virus Still a work in progress, the study of Norovirus, also called the "winter vomiting bug", shows promising developments in bacteria studies, possibly offering an alternative to antibiotics

I know, you’ll be wondering A) Do I really wanna take something that would clearly cause me vomiting and intestinal discomfort? B) Why do we need an alternative to antibiotics? And C) Even less tempting, what mice have to do with it? So, the human noroviruses – or HuNoVs – cause gastrointestinal distress indeed However, scientists have noticed that the mouse version of the virus is actually useful in the development of its intestine and its immune system In this case, the virus can replace the beneficial effects of certain gut bacteria when these have been decimated by antibiotics Which brings us to point B Usually, healthy gut bacteria can actually defend the body and prevent infection by unhealthy bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness

However, the excessive use of antibiotics can kill the normal gut flora, and make one vulnerable to gastrointestinal disease Ongoing studies on mice – and recently on humans, in a 2019 study by the University of Georgia – show that norovirus actually restored the normal function of the immune system killed by the antibiotics 8 Herpesviruses Mice are also extremely helpful for the studies of Herpesviruses Researchers have noticed that the Gamma-herpesviruses provide immunity against bacterial pathogens in the little rodents

So, for example, mice have a strong resistance to Listeria monocytogenes, an important human gastrointestinal pathogen, and to Yersinia pestis – that you may know as plague Good for thembut also good for us, ‘cause again humans and mice immune systems are quite alike

In fact, humans are often infected with their own gamma-herpes viruses, therefore we could benefit from the same results of our little friends if we learn how to use these viruses For once, herpesviruses are capable of killing natural cells that are quite indispensable for our immune system – so, not so good Still, if they can kill regular cells that means they can kill tumor cells too – which is actually excellent Experts, such as Professor Marilyn Roossinck, are still unsure about how these viruses affect their hosts, but their sheer number and diversity suggest that going forward, they could teach us more about infections, tumorigenesis, and immune control over viruses themselves 7

Phage Therapy To understand what Phage Therapy is, first, we need to explain what bacteriophages are So, the bacteriophages – or phage for short – are viruses that invade bacterial cells and, in some cases, such as for the lytic phages, they disrupt both the bacterial metabolism which causes the bacterium destruction Phage Therapy uses these lytic bacteriophages to treat pathogenic bacterial infections Oh, it’s that easy? More or lessbut wait, isn’t it sorta what antibiotics do? Yes, it is correctbut also wrong

There are a few differences An example? Consider that one of the major problems antibiotics have nowadays is that the bacteria have been increasing their resistance to them, so they get less effective Bacteria develop resistance to phages too, but it is much easier to develop new phages – it takes only a few weeks – than new antibiotics – lots of years of work Additionally, phages can target specific areas because they penetrate deeper as long as the infection is present On the contrary, antibiotics decrease rapidly in concentration below the surface

Even more astonishingly, phages seem to stop reproducing once the specific bacteria they target has been destroyed 6 Plant Viruses It turns out viruses also come in handy for the agriculture field In 2007 a team of scientists discovered that a few plants somehow grow in the hot soils surrounding the geysers at Yellowstone National Park What’s the secret of those plants? It appears that these plants, a type of tropical panic grass, owe their lives to both a fungus – inhabitant of the grass – and the virus that infects it

All three of these elements – the plant, the fungus, and the virus – work in a sort of symbiosis, which is necessary for their survival at more than 122 degrees Fahrenheit This discovery started several other studies on the matter, revealing so many new possibilities for growing plantations worldwide For example, in 2015, Professor Marilyn Roossinck recreated that same symbiosis – using the same fungus and virus – in other plants As a result, all the plants tested not only survived, but they flourished in elevated soil temperatures – sometimes reaching 140 degrees These results are vitally important, especially considering that among the plants tested there were also vegetables, such as tomatoes

The possibility of growing food, even in the most hostile environments, is getting real – which could be a lifesaver considering how our Earth is changing 5 The Arc Gene Now, we’re about to enter a very specific field – in fact, it touches the borders of Sci-Fi – but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible So, in 2018, two independent teams of scientists – from the University of Utah and the University of Massachusetts Medical School – discovered a connection between viruses and a particular gene, called the Arc This gene is extremely important in the formation of long-term memory in every human being, which is why it has been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders

What’s the link with viruses? According to both the reports, the Arc sends its genetic material from one neuron to another using a similar strategy employed by viruses The work on this particular field is still in progress, so there’s still so much unknown about the Arc’s molecular function and its evolutionary origins However, the implication is that, by studying viruses, we can learn how to control the stimulus of genetic material the Arc sends Or, simplified in a more vulgar way, we can learn to control human minds 4

Oxygen Makers Remember the Bacteriophages? Well, I forgot to give you additional – yet quite important – information The thing is, yes, phages are extremely important for our bodies with their involvement in Phage Therapy But, maybe even more valuable, they’re an indispensable resource in the natural world In fact, they are the primary regulator of bacterial populations in the ocean, so as the rest of ecosystems on the planet But let’s focus our attention on the ocean because that’s where more than 90% of all living material is microbial

Why is this important? First of all, if we didn’t have these, a big part of the bacterial population would likely explode, the rest might be outcompeted and stop growing completely The consequences on our planet would be catastrophic, especially in our waters – about 71% of the Earth’s surface Anyway, those same microbes produce about half the oxygen on the planet And you know thanks to whom? Yep, the viruses that kill about 20% of all oceanic microbes, and about 50% of all oceanic bacteria, each day This allows oxygen-producing plankton to undertake high rates of photosynthesis

3 Adenoviruses We’ve already mentioned how viruses can help in fighting tumorous cells, but there’s a particular category of viruses especially useful in cancer research The adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that cause infectious diseases of the respiratory tract, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract They’re particularly effective on children However, they turned out to be quite important for DNA tumor research

So, yeah, experts worldwide, from the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Spain to the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, are working on using viruses to cure cancer The hopes are high, and the conditions are promising These viruses replicate and spread inside tumors, amplifying their cytotoxicity and, at the same time, reversing the tumor immune suppression How? The components of such viruses are characterized as highly immunogenic, which inhibits the widespread use of adenoviral vectors to treat genetic disorders FYI, generally speaking, vectors are tools commonly used by molecular biologists to deliver genetic material into cells

The stimulation of the immune response can be exploited for cancer immunotherapy In particular, researchers have recently learned that the strain of the virus type 52 – HAdV-52 – is especially effective It binds to a very specific type of carbohydrate found in cancer cells Of course, there's still a lot of work to do on the matter, but this definitely creates some interesting possibilities for virus-based cancer therapy 2

Gene Therapy Going further, we cannot fail to mention Gene Therapy Research on the topic is still ongoing but, what we know so far is the therapy purpose is to introduce genetic material into cells to compensate for abnormal genes or to make a beneficial protein How? Well, let’s say a mutated gene causes the fault or the lack of a necessary protein in our body Gene therapy could introduce the normal/standard copy of that same gene to restore the function of the protein In order to do so, scientists are focusing all their efforts on viruses which, as we’ve learned, on some occasions can work as vectors

In this way, by infecting the cell, they would also deliver the new gene As you can imagine, the development of the therapy would lead to huge improvements in the medical field However, before doctors can be able to use this approach as a practical treatment for diseases, researchers must first overcome some issues For example, they’re still working on how to target specific cells and it’s still unknown how and if the body could control the new genes 1

Cowpox Speaking of viruses and how they can benefit mankind, what a better way to end this video than remembering the scientific contribution English doctor Edward Jenner gave to this field? Jenner is famous for creating the first vaccine in history It was 1798 and, after centuries of deaths caused by the infectious disease of the Smallpox, he found the definitive cure to it The doctor became interested in finding a remedy to the virus when he noticed some of the people who had suffered from Cowpox seemed immune to Smallpox Cowpox is a relatively harmless virus that could be contracted from cattle Today, we know that the cowpox virus belongs to the Orthopox family of viruses which CAUSE Smallpox

Therefore, after being infected by Cowpox, the body should gain the ability to recognize familiar viruses from its antigens, becoming able to fight Smallpox more efficiently Obviously, Jenner didn’t know that back then so, to get some results, he had to try his theory on people He injected a sample of Cowpox into an 8-year-old boy and, after a few months, did the same with a Smallpox sample The rest as they say is history

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