How can we overcome viruses?

So today I have been reading about viruses.  My interest in viruses got re-sparked as a consequence of the ebola pandemic.  Previously in 2005 I was really curious about why viruses such as HIV cannot be cured and vaccinated against.  At the time I found I was hitting wall after wall in understanding them. This time I set forth with new conviction to understand them. I was wondering why are we really so vulnerable to them.  The thing is they attack our cells and trick our cells into making numerous copies of the virus till the cell dies releasing more viruses into the body to attack even more cells.

Such strange creatures these viruses are that they don't eat, don't sleep, and i'm guessing they don't even feel.  So what on earth gives them even a compulsion or impulse to replicate as such. And how did they come about being programmed in such a way.  Whatever drives or motivates them, they do do their thing rather effectively.

Now I got thinking how can we stop or manage viruses to a degree where they no longer pose a problem to our species.  Part of the problem in dealing effectively with viruses is their minute size they are so tinny it's been practically impossible to see what they are doing.  Much of our understandings about them seems to be based on biochemical analysis as opposed to imaging and really seeing the problem.  Recently imaging advances have started to shed more light on these microscopic critters.  I'm guessing part of the problem lies in the lighting inside a cell. As a filmmaker, lighting is something that I spend a lot of time contemplating.  Lighting inside a cell must be a real challenge, dealing with shadows and exposures at that microscopic scale must be an arduous task.  Apparently, it was only a few years ago in 2008 that virologist Paul Bieniasz and his team at Rockefeller University were able to record an actual cell spawning the HIV virus.  They did this by sending light into the cell at a sharp angle as opposed to straight on. Within 75 mins the cell was pumping out the virus.

Seeing an image or even a visual recreation of the virus I was surprised that my instincts were not of instant repulsion. Instead it seemed like a some kind of odd ball or cylinder of fluff.  Well what seems to be like fluff are probably antennas.  These very antennas I am guessing are be responsible for finding their target cells.  This what I was really pondering on.  What makes viruses find their targets.  They have no brain, or nervous system. So do they just float around until by chance they accidentally find cells that can just bind to?

As an idea I thought, would it not be nice to trick those antennas some how.  Most likely this is already being tried by researchers.  But one of the problems with well problematic viruses is that they mutate like HIV so it's hard to find a way to target their changing membranes shapes.  Unless there is some kind of trend or quotient that can be discovered by studying their DNA to predict how they may mutate, it is really challenging dealing with these near invisible shape shifting balls of fluff.  So I thought about these antennas.  Now the one thing that dosent really change is their targets.  It may not be possible to find these viruses easily, but could we engineer some kind of larger cell like entity that will attract the viruses's antennas to bind to it's membrane and then trick them into injecting their DNA or RNA.  And then boom!  The cell could incinerate it or present it self to a nearby white blood cell.  The good old fashioned booby trap.  Perhaps it could be engineered to be even more attractive to the virus's antennas then a real cell.  Maybe these fake cells could even be manufactured using existing cells and by removing most of the organelles with in the cell.  So once the virus injects it's DNA there is no capacity for that cell to manufacture the protein covers that the viruses needs.  The cells I assume may then fill with viral DNA or RNA until it just swells and explodes or is consumed by a white blood cell. I'm sure this is far more easy to imagine then to implement.

There must be many ways to defeat these little monsters.  But perhaps there is also a way to live in harmony with them.  They wish to multiply, so can we figure a method of living in harmony with these balls of fluff and survive?  Bats for example seem to carry numerous viruses without being effected, in a 2013 study Kevin Olival discovered 50 new viruses while studying the giant bat Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giantess).  I wonder from an evolutionary stand point what is the purpose of these viruses, well if you are into your Darwin then to some degree it is to test the strength of the creatures infected with them.  But this strength is just not physical, it is also tactical and cultural.  We need to continue to develop better microscopic imaging, video and lighting apparatus to answer and understand viruses as wholly as possible, while pondering all possible tactics that can help neutralise viruses and even potentially use their gene delivering abilities to our own advantage. The solution to this problem is in part technical but it is also creative and requires imagination. Hence, the answers may not be so straight forth in coming, and so like an artist in search of channeling a masterpiece we must keep exploring new angles until we arrive at the great work.

So can we tame this wolf and potentially even domesticate it? Well, we can certainly improve our chances of doing so, and expedite the process. We have waged so many futile wars on our fellow human being, and spent astronomical sums on defence. It's time for us to unite to fight the real killers of humanity and defend it against diseases, cancers and ignorance. We need to invest with conviction in training a new breed of soldier, one that will fight with finesse at a microscopic and intellectual level. A soldier that will heal. The potential does exist.

If man kind can truly come together and fight these common enemies that can torture and kill all peoples regardless religion or citizenship then I feel we can come to a solution far sooner and save the countless lives and suffering that are to be lost otherwise.

 The first Ebola Virus electron micrograph taken in 1976 by Dr. F.A. Murphy 

The first Ebola Virus electron micrograph taken in 1976 by Dr. F.A. Murphy 

 Colorized scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles (red) attached and budding from a chronically infected VERO E6 cell (blue) (25,000x magnification). Taken by NIAID in 2014.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles (red) attached and budding from a chronically infected VERO E6 cell (blue) (25,000x magnification). Taken by NIAID in 2014.

Cross-sectional drawing of the Ebola virus particle, with structures of the major proteins shown and labeled at the side. Pale circles represent domains too flexible to be observed in the experimental structure. Drawn by David Goodsell from PDB files 3csy, 4ldd, 4qb0, 3vne, 3fke, and 2i8b.

 

 This image shows a three-dimensional reconstruction of a rotavirus at a magnification of about 50,000. Source: NIH

This image shows a three-dimensional reconstruction of a rotavirus at a magnification of about 50,000. Source: NIH

Animation of the mechanism of an influenza virus and how Crucell's antibodies target the HA1 proteins on the virus and prevent further spread of influenza.

Viral Replication: Paul Andersen explains how viruses reproduce using the lytic cycle.

3D animation of hiv replication.