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Fighting viruses on the nanoscale with AFM

During the last century humans have endured multiple severe viral outbreaks including the Spanish flu and other influenza epidemics, HIV, SARS-CoV, MERS, Ebola and the recent SARS-CoV2 pandemic. During this period, science has made strides in understanding many different facets of virus outbreaks including viral infectivity, pathogenicity, and virulence, transmission, and propensity to cause an epidemic/pandemic. Modern techniques that include cell culture, infectivity assays, polymerase chain reactions, fluorescence microscopy, electron microscopy, and immunoassays have helped us gain a better understanding about the virus life cycle, viral replication, and the virus-host interaction. We now have a better grasp on the structure and function of the viral particle, viral genome, RNA or DNA expression levels, virus-host cell interaction and immune response. These advances have resulted in the development of vaccines and drugs to treat several different viruses.

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is one of the newer techniques available for virus research. AFM is a cantilever-based technique that utilizes a sharp tip to interrogate surfaces at resolutions well below the optical diffraction limit. Beyond imaging, AFM is also a powerful tool for nano-mechanical probing and nano-manipulation. AFM thus offers a large toolbox of applications to address structure, function, and host interaction of viruses.