Viruses & AFM

Material properties and dynamics of assembly and filling of virus particles

Viruses are intriguing intermediates between the inanimate and the animate world. They are built very simply out of few structural building blocks, typically arranged in crystalline shell arrays (icosahedra and related shapes), and their genetic information coded in RNA or DNA. These are Nature’s true nanomachines that far outperform any manmade nanotechnolgy, which, after all, generally plays at micrometer length scales. Experimentally testing the material properties of virus shells is becoming feasible and it will be possible to directly link to exact microscopic calculations and to simulations based on X-ray structures with atomic resolution. The combination, then, of two-dimensional crystalline shells with DNA or RNA in confined and possible ordered states will make for rather complex and interesting material properties. These are, of course, closely connected to functions of the virus since they are designed by evolution for their specific purpose.