It sounds like it ought to herald a medical panic: A virus so difficult to eradicate that scientists have called it "nearly indestructible." But this virus might actually be a boon to medical science, potentially helping researchers develop genetic therapies that can be used to cure diseases, reports UVA Today.

The virus, called SIRV2, is a stiff-rod-shaped rudivirus that infects extremophile microorganisms often found in highly acidic hot springs. That's the main reason the virus is so hardy; it has to be to survive under its living conditions. Scientists are just now beginning to unlock the secrets to what makes it so imperishable.

“What’s interesting and unusual is being able to see how proteins and DNA can be put together in a way that’s absolutely stable under the harshest conditions imaginable,” said Edward H. Egelman of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. “We’ve discovered what appears to be a basic mechanism of resistance – to heat, to desiccation, to ultraviolet radiation. And knowing that, then, we can go in many different directions, including developing ways to package DNA for gene therapy.”

The idea is to study the virus so that effective packaging for DNA delivery can be developed to withstand the human body's fierce defenses against foreign DNA. Normally the body's immune response is a good thing, but with the advent of gene therapy this stiff protection can also keep out potential cures. Using the structure of SIRV2 as a vehicle is essentially like giving that good DNA near-indestructible armor so that it can do its job.

Researchers made their breakthrough when they noticed some surprising similarities between SIRV2 and the spores bacteria form to survive in inhospitable environments.

“Some of these spores are responsible for very, very horrific diseases that are hard to treat, like anthrax,” explained Egelman. “So we show in this paper that this virus actually functions in a similar way to some of the proteins present in bacterial spores.”

He went on: “Understanding how these bacterial spores work gives us potentially new abilities to destroy them. Having this basic scientific research leads in many, many directions, most of which are impossible to predict, in terms of what the implications are going to be.”

Related on MNN: