The Invulnerable Cell
Biologists are working on an artificial organism that no virus can harm. Next, they could make human cells immune to viral attack.
A tiny attacker, about 1000 times smaller than its prey, lands on an Escherichia coli bacterium. Six thin legs support a body that looks like a syringe with a huge head. Through a pore, he injects his DNA into the E. coli cell, which then begins to make many more copies of the aggressor using this blueprint. It's the lambda phage, and like countless viruses before it, it's hijacking its victim's cellular machinery in order to multiply. Because it's just a protein capsule with blueprints for making more copies of itself, the bacteriophage can't synthesize new material unaided. The hostile takeover works because all organisms-from snuffle-causing rhinoviruses to the rhinoceros of the plains of Africa-use the same coding system, which is based on nucleic acids like DNA. Once fed the code, a cell assembles proteins using the instructions it contains.
New viral proteins are now being formed in the infected bacterium. Within minutes, the cell will rupture, releasing a multitude of brand new lambda phages - each of which will invade a new bacterium, repeating the cycle of reproduction over and over again. But suddenly the cellular machinery stops. For the first time in the eternal duel between virus and cell, the cell can no longer read the virus DNA correctly. This heralds the end of the bacteriophage …