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The nanoshuttles' guidance system depends on two parts.
Onboard the nanoshuttle itself is a special type of virus called a bacteriophage, or phage for short, that infects only bacteria. The scientists engineer these phages to include peptides—molecules that include at least two but no more than 50 amino acids each—that exactly match certain proteins in the body.
The other part of the guidance system is a kind of phage library that the scientists have spent years building. The work is led by the University of Texas husband-and-wife team of Wadih Arap and Renata Pasqualini.
"We do molecular mapping of zip codes in the body," Pasqualini, a professor of medicine and cancer biology, told LiveScience. "We now have a large collection of phage particles that display peptides that can be directed at nearly any organ or disease."