A deadly and debilitating virus holds the key for a potentially unlocking a new indestructible material.

Researchers from the University of Virginia believe that by examining the characteristics of Acidianus hospitalis Filamentous Virus 1 they can create a material that has a number of applications, including the pinpoint delivery of cancer drugs that only attack tumors and building materials that could better withstand an earthquake’s tremors.

“Anytime you find something that behaves really differently, especially something this stable, it's interesting and potentially useful,” Dr. Peter Kasson, Ph.D., said in a statement. “When you're doing curiosity-driven science that finds something new, in the back of your mind, you think, 'Hey, this is really different. What might it be good for?' And this has many potential applications.”

The virus is found in hot springs at Yellowstone National Park and is capable of dissolving flesh and bone.

The researchers discovered that the virus, which lives in temperatures exceeding 175 degrees, has a membrane never before encountered by science.

The outer coat is half as thick as known cell membranes, but it is stable.

The membrane molecules are arranged in a horseshoe shape—providing a small size, yet remains durable.

The researchers used the Titan Krios electron microscope and advanced computer modeling to determine the shape of the lipid membrane molecules.

“Essentially, we encode everything we know about the physics of these molecules and then come up with models that are both consistent with the basic physics and consistent with the observations from the electron microscope,” Kasson said.

If scientists tap into the properties of the virus, they can create a way to make microscopic particles of medicine shelf stable that don’t need refrigeration.

The material could also be used to create super-strong wrappers for molecules of drugs that can be delivered exactly where they are needed.

“There are all sorts of potential applications in material science, building things, medicine,” Edward H. Egelman, PhD, of UVA's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, said in a statement. “We can use natural products, cellular proteins, etcetera to design many new things that are useful.

“Wool, essentially, is hair, and that's used extensively to make fabrics,” he added. “That's a protein. So there are many implications for using this to build new materials.”

The study was published in eLife.