Nature's Most Wicked-Looking Robot, the Bacteriophage

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I can't lie; I've been waiting for an excuse to post a picture of a bacteriophage*, the microscopic spider virus that lands on bacteria to inject its own DNA, for a long time. This Cyborg Life gives me an excuse.

Rather than attacking typical plant or animal cells, the bacteriophage uses bacteria as its host for replication. Highly specialized, the bacteriophage lands on a specific part of a specific bacteria, and just like a syringe with legs, injects its genetic material (which is stored in that big bulb on top).

It only takes minutes for viral mRNA to convince bacterial ribosomes to makes its own proteins, transforming the bacteria into a virus factory that, in some circumstances, will literally burst with its own product.


For those who believe that a benevolent supreme being created life, it would be only natural to believe that the bacteriophage was spawned from a equally powerful source of evil.

Of course, Man has long reimagined the bacteriophage as a tool for everything from antibiotic alternatives (see what's called phage therapy, a century old idea) to FDA-approved food sprays. While it's easy to consider nanobots as the future of Man's biological domination, sometimes using the machines that nature has already left lying around is the better bet.

Especially when they're this badass.


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* The lead photo is technically a nano-scale model of a T4 bacteriophage. The gallery has real shots.


This week, Gizmodo is exploring the enhanced human future in a segment we call This Cyborg Life. It's about what happens when we treat our body less as a sacred object and more as what it is: Nature's ultimate machine.