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When you’re curled up on the couch, sniffling and shivering, with a pounding headache and aching body, it’s hard to imagine any such thing as a good virus. But according to scientists, many viruses have the potential to help, rather than hurt, humans. Over the years, this has been proven time and again. For example, in 1952 Martha Chase and Alfred Hershey used viruses to help establish that DNA, rather than protein, forms the basis of heredity.

And now, some MIT researchers have figured out a way to genetically engineer common bacteriophage viruses (that is, viruses that infect bacteria but are harmless to humans) and put them to work building rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in the form of a plastic film. The result – a new generation of batteries that would have the energy capacity to power personal electronic devices such as iPods and cellphones and might even be powerful enough to be used in plug-in hybrid cars.

As described in the April 2nd online edition of Science, these new batteries could be produced cheaply and be nontoxic to the environment. A prototype of the battery was taken to the White House last week when the MIT president met with President Barack Obama to discuss federal funding needs to help advance research and production of new clean-energy technologies.

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