Building with Biology: VirEx Delivery

Our kits are currently being reviewed and updated by a team of collaborative, innovative and interdisciplinary educators who wish to enhance the educational opportunities for students. These dedicated teachers are members of CRISP Collaborative Science for All (CCSA) as well as local educators.

Click to see the SCSU CRISP Module Template used by CCSA for improving and updating the CRISP demos and kits. Each kit page offers a CRISP developed teacher module and CRISP aligned standards (both NGSS and CCSS)

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Viruses come in many different shapes. They replicate by invading living cells.

Researchers in the field of synthetic biology are engineering viruses to help treat diseases. It may seem strange to use viruses to treat disease, since we usually think of a virus as something that makes us sick, but scientists are taking advantage of the way viruses work to make them do helpful things. Viruses have an external capsid, which is a protective protein shell that acts as a container. Inside the capsid is genetic material (either DNA or RNA). Viruses replicate by inserting their genetic material into another organism. In modified viruses, harmful genetic material is replaced with genetic information that is “programmed” to do beneficial things. Someday it may be possible to engineer viruses to detect and destroy tumor cells in patients with cancer. They might also instruct cells to produce proteins or enzymes that the body needs to be healthy, such as insulin for people with diabetes.

Adapted from Building with Biology Toolkits originally created for NISEnet via the Building with Biology project
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DRL 1421179. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Synthetic Biology, Biotechnology, Technology and Society


  • Synthetic biologists solve problems by applying engineering principles to the life sciences.
  • Researchers in the field of synthetic biology are engineering viruses to help treat diseases.
  • Synthetic biology benefits from many voices.

Materials in this kit:

  • Activity and facilitator guides
  • Activity sign and holder
  • Index cards
  • Purple and orange yarn
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Small cardboard takeout boxes
  • Sticky notes
  • Markers
  • Reference sheets: Synthetic biology, Genes and DNA, and Structure of a Virus

Suggestions for the Teacher:

Things to talk about:

  • How did you choose which disease you wanted to cure?
  • Is it surprising to think about using a virus to treat a disease? How could you test your cure to be sure it was as safe as possible?
  • Can you imagine other uses for “re-programming” viruses, beyond fighting disease?


Additional Resources:

VirEx Delivery Teacher Module
BwB VirEx structure of a virus
BwB_VirEx_facilitator guide
BwB VirEx activity guide

VirEx CRISP aligned standards
Synthetic Biology Reference
BwB Genes and DNA Reference

STEM Careers:

Biomedical Engineer
Medical Device Designer
Quality Control/Quality Assurance Technician
Research Scientist
Synthetic Biologist


NGSS: Performance Task:

MS-LS1-1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.

MS-ETS1-1 Engineering Design

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

HS-LS1-1. From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

HS-ETS1-1 Engineering Design

  • Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
NGSS: Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS - LS1.A: Structure and Function

  • All living things are made up of cells, which is the smallest unit that can be said to be alive. An organism may consist of one single cell (unicellular) or many different numbers and types of cells (multicellular).

MS - ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

  • The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

HS - LS1.A: Structure and Function

  • Systems of specialized cells within organisms help them perform the essential functions of life.
    All cells contain genetic information in the form of DNA molecules. Genes are regions in the DNA that contain the instructions that code for the formation of proteins, which carry out most of the work of cells.

HS - ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

  • Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be quantified to the extent possible and stated in such a way that one can tell if a given design meets them.
  • Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities.
NGSS: Cross-Cutting Concepts

CC 3 - Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

  • Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

CC 6 - Structure and Function

  • Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem.

Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

  • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment. (MS)
  • The uses of technologies and limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. (MS)
  • New technologies can have deep impacts on society and the environment, including some that were not anticipated. Analysis of costs and benefits is a critical aspect of decisions about technology. (HS)
NGSS: Science and Engineering Practices

SEP 1 - Asking Questions and Defining Problems

  • Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.(MS)
  • Analyze complex real-world problems by specifying criteria and constraints for successful solutions.(HS)

SEP 5 - Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

  • Construct an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Suggested Video(s):

Virex Delivery from NISE Network on Vimeo.