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Could “nanodecoys” filter out biological weapons?

from the on-top-of-spaghetti dept.
Bryan Hall writes "New Scientist reports in a recent aricle that Meatball shaped molecules studded with molecular bait could mop up viruses before they get a chance to attack cells. Such "nanodecoys" could filter out biological weapons in gas masks or even intercept viral invaders when injected into people.

To infect cells, viruses must first attach to their surfaces by targeting specific receptor molecules. So if you create decoys laden with these receptors, you could mop up viruses – and some bacteria – before they reach cells.

One Response to “Could “nanodecoys” filter out biological weapons?”

  1. MarkGubrud Says:


    The article does not say that this idea has got beyond the funding-proposal stage. Okay, I'm willing to believe they've got, or will get, funding. The military is desperate to find things they can say they are working on as defenses against bioweapons.

    A best guess as to the logic of this proposal: To filter out viruses (say, or other biological agents), you want antibodies or some other molecule that binds specifically to some molecule on the surface of the viruses, and you want these antibodies attached to the surface of something immobile, so that the viruses are immobilized. In order to maximize the effectiveness of such a filter, you want to maximize surface area, so it makes sense to use some kind of nanosphere. Buckyballs are probably too small. Dendrimers would look like good candidates. Also, being branching molecules, dendrimers look kind of like antibodies already, so the idea suggests itself pretty naturally. Dendrimers can be built up by cycles of addition to the ends of the branches, so it's easy to imagine a last step in which you tack on antibodies (or some synthetic receptor).

    Of course, if the receptor is specific, it will need to have been cloned against the particular virus you're defending against. So you need to know in advance and you need to have a sufficient sample of the threat, then you need to make the filters and get them into the field. On the other hand, if you try to make a broad-spectrum filter, it will pick up a lot of junk. Another potential problem is the need to keep the dendrimers loose, so that air can flow through them, rather than bunched up into an impervious mass. And you have the usual issues of stability, cost, etc.

    How well will this work? That's anybody's guess. Five years of research, at the usual pace, should shed some light on the question.

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