Friendly Viruses

Design in Nature

Everyone assumes viruses are nasty killers with no good purpose. Yet if God’s creation was originally “very good,” wouldn’t we find some good roles that viruses play, even in our fallen world? As creationists expected, we’re now discovering them.

Viruses get a bad rap. We despise their existence every time we think about our last nasty cold or flu. But viruses, the most abundant creatures on earth, do many good things. Take bacteriophages, for example.

Bacteriophages, or phages for short, are viruses that infect bacteria. The phages invade bacteria and reproduce in their host until their high numbers eventually rupture and kill the bacteria. When ocean bacteria are ruptured, they release tons of carbon and nitrogen so other living organisms can use them, or these nutrients are stored in mud deposits for later use.

Another phage found in the ocean actually helps restore proteins in carbon-collecting bacteria that have suffered “sunburn.” These carbon-collecting bacteria, called cyanobacteria, may collect as much carbon from the atmosphere as all the plants on earth combined. They are important recyclers of this key element, which is required for life by all living things. Unfortunately, sunlight sometimes destroys some of their proteins, just as you would get sunburned if you lay on a raft in the ocean too long. The phages in the water help reverse the damage to the bacteria by delivering new genetic components that restore the damaged carbon-collecting proteins. How kind of them!

Other phages have been discovered to aid human health. The famous Ganges River in India has long been known to cure diseases like cholera, but the reason was a mystery. Not long ago the river was shown to contain a lot of phages that kill cholera-causing bacteria.

Just recently also, scientists discovered phages that naturally exist in the human body, where they help control the number of bacteria and may even kill bacteria that make us sick. Some doctors are now considering using phages instead of antibiotics to kill bacteria in the human body. This is called phage therapy. Phages have a lot of potential because they are more specific in their targets than antibiotics, which randomly kill microorganisms. Some creationists have suggested that viruses might also be used to kill cancer cells.*

Although few phage or viral therapy protocols are used in U. S. medicine, some believe this kind of therapy might be available soon. For instance, phages have been approved for killing bacteria found on food that might cause food poisoning.

These five examples offer evidence that even phages played a good role in God’s original creation, which was “very good” in every way (Genesis 1:31). The Creator’s wisdom and handiwork can still be seen all around us, even in the smallest creatures on earth (Romans 1:20).


Dr. Joe Francis, chairperson of the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences and Department of Mathematics at The Master’s College, earned his PhD from Wayne State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Answers Magazine

January – March 2014

Placed safely in our solar system’s “goldilocks zone” and engineered with the perfect balance of atmosphere, chemicals, and water, our earth was miraculously formed to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). This issue examines the earth’s unique suitability for life. We’ll also investigate what seminaries are actually teaching our pastors, the possibility that viruses could be beneficial, and more.

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