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In the Animorphs series K.A. Applegate mentions:

A quantum virus. It breaks down the very forces that holds subatomic particles together. It can take weeks or even months of agony as your body grows weaker and weaker and breaks down into the fundamental particles...

So is it possible for such a virus to exist also what kind of gruesome effect will it have as your body grows weaker and ultimately breaks down to fundamental particles. Bonus if horrible agony can be evolved to the highest possible extent.

Also for the sake of simplicity assume that the virus breaks down both the strong and weak nuclear forces.

Edit: In the series Applegate writes that the virus is a disease in space time implying that is not a living being or anything we know of nor will we ever know about in the near future. However (for further simplicity) we can assume that the virus is non-reproductive entity but immortal except if treated with the correct medicine which is not available at present to the victims. Also the virus works by contact which means that if your hand comes into contact with the viruses it is the first organ to be doomed and then slowly the rest of your body

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As you can gather from other answers already given here:

  • Your "virus" wouldn't be a biological construct;
  • It would be orders of magnitude smaller than a proper virus.

I should mention then something called a strangelet. Now there is a lot of physics to this beast, but TL;DR:

  • This is a thing made of quarks, just like protons and neutrons;
  • Protons and neutrons are nuclear matter. Strangelets, on the other hand, are strange matter (particle physicists come up with the best terms ever);
  • A strangelet should be at least as big as an atom, but here's the cool thing: if the current model for them is right, they grow like katamaris!

From the wiki:

If the strange matter hypothesis is correct and its surface tension is larger than the aforementioned critical value, then a larger strangelet would be more stable than a smaller one. One speculation that has resulted from the idea is that a strangelet coming into contact with a lump of ordinary matter could convert the ordinary matter to strange matter. This "ice-nine"-like disaster scenario is as follows: one strangelet hits a nucleus, catalyzing its immediate conversion to strange matter. This liberates energy, producing a larger, more stable strangelet, which in turn hits another nucleus, catalyzing its conversion to strange matter. In the end, all the nuclei of all the atoms of Earth are converted, and Earth is reduced to a hot, large lump of strange matter.

What I could not find anywhere is the rate at which a strangelet would grow and convert nuclear matter.

Since this is all hypothetical and you are going into sci-fi, you could use strangelets for inspiration. It goes like this: someone touches a strangelet somehow, and now their body is slowly but surely coming apart. Let's say that it would take ten years for the whole body of an adult to be converted into a strangelet... This is so slow, that the body may somehow "excrete" or otherwise get rid of part of the strangelets, and rebuild some parts of it somehow... But the person would be afflicted by symptoms not unlike those of cancer/acute radiation syndrome and leprosy, with the body destroying itself from inside out.

As a bonus: a strangelet will affect any nuclear matter, not just living matter... So your patients would have a more extreme version of the midas touch. Anything that comes in contact with them, even the very air they breath, is doomed to slow destruction. Just imagine. Someone afflicted with strangeletitis sets foot on a planet. That planet may last for millenia or even millions of years, but everything in it will be converted to plasma as the eons pass as surely as two plus two equals four.

This also makes this "disease" the most contagious thing in the universe. It is the very matter of the cosmos that is getting sick. The only way to prevent spread is throwing whatever planet is showing any case of this into a black hole.

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  • $\begingroup$ would it be possible for someone to use this as a weapon and accelerate the disintegration into particles? $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 20 '16 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Sky possibly. I don't have the knowledge to describe how that could be done... But as Einstein said, when someone says something is impossible, they're probably wrong. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 20 '16 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ if you throw that into a black hole - won't you get a strange black hole? $\endgroup$ – Tom Mar 11 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom yeah, one that spews strange hawkings radiation, which might accelerate the spreading of the overall destruction. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 11 at 13:24
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If you invoke magic, yes. Otherwise, no.

If you invoke magic, then yes, such a thing can exist. If you stick with known science, no.

There are no known physics or even theories that spontaneously can make the Strong or Weak forces shrug their shoulders and say "Naw, I quit... this is no fun now". So you will have to invoke magic here.

If you do that, your "disease" could credibly act pretty much as severe acute radiation syndrome. What this means is that it breaks DNA apart which in turn means that the cells of the body stops working, unable to divide and replenish. This means that your body gradually break down over a few days, starting with the gastrointestinal tract.

For a graphic account of how this happens, read about the "Demon Core" that killed physicists Louis Slotin and Harry Daghlian.

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    $\begingroup$ Why just DNA? This virus would destroy any atom, wouldn't it? The very moment the forces are weakened enough to destroy DNA they should also be weakened enough to destroy oxygen or ATP or another of the innumerable system the failing of which would cause the immediate death of the affected person. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Aug 18 '16 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ OP asked for a gruesome way to kill the person. We know that ARS is horrendously gruesome, and protracted over several days. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Aug 18 '16 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, that would be a gruesome death, but it is not possible within the limits given by the OP. The OP didn't permit selective weakening of the strong and weak nuclear forces. If this happens on some part of the body it's happening everywhere else as well. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Aug 18 '16 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Annonymus So you are saying that we have this powerful super-virus, that has the extraordinary magic ability that can it mess with the forces of nature, but then you claim it cannot be made so that it targets DNA?! I am sorry but that was just silly! :) Targeting DNA is what viruses do for a living... literally so! Viruses cannot survive and spread in the body without attacking DNA. Essentially you are saying that the realistic premise — which exists in the real world already — is not acceptable, but that the magic, fantastic and physics-breaking premise is A-OK. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Aug 18 '16 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Eh, yeah... that is what radiation does as well! Unless you have a very local source of the radiation, your entire body's DNA takes a beating. In fact, radiation would probably more uniformly affect the body than viruses since viruses can be extremely organ-specific. For example: you know that case of chicken-pox you had a child? It is very likely that some of those viruses still live in your body, in your nerves, and when they feel like it, they will propagate along those nerves to give you Shingles (Bältros på svenska). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shingles $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Aug 18 '16 at 12:07
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A biological virus is a string of RNA in a protein shell, that attached itself to host DNA in order to propagate. This makes it the size of a molecule, with all the physical and chemical limitations therein.

An atom is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller than a molecule; the nucleus is about 5 orders smaller still. At the quantum level, an object is on the level of being detected only as a statistical probability. Your virus would have to knowingly manipulate forces that it cannot reasonably measure, while ensuring it itself is not negatively affected; an atom is an atom, after all, and your virus contains several thousand.

There's easier ways to make a living than as a microscopic quantum physicist (you can't even apply for research grants ;P). Given that evolution follows the path of least resistance, your quantum virus is unlikely to exist as a biological organism.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's not just unlikely, it's impossible. The strong and weak nuclear forces are constants in our universe. Nothing pertaining to it can change them. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Aug 18 '16 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Annonymus "not *#&&@y likely" loses a lot without the expletive ;) $\endgroup$ – nzaman Aug 19 '16 at 5:39
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If such a virus does exist, the universe as we know it would be gone within a few hundreds of millions of years or so.

Working at such small levels, the virus would not make any difference between a living body or a stone or magma. It will simply go on working as a slow hydrogen bomb (yes, when you split atomic particles apart, you are actually converting part of the mass into energy. this energy comes from the strong nuclear force which provides some of the mass in the atomic nuclei. and that is precisely what nuclear bombs do).

And as a virus, it will generate at least tens (and a nuclear scientist would wager in favor of billions) of copies of itself from each atom it destroys. Depending on your whim, the virus could travel from one place to another at the speed of light, or more horrible yet, through quantum entanglement.

Farewell to the universe as we know it ... Oh, and it would be a horror to watch planets, moons, stars, solar systems, and in fact whole galaxies exploding to pieces as quintillions upon quintillions of such virus produce incomprehensible amount of heat as they take apart countless atoms in those heavenly bodies.

I would desire to be long dead before that. It would be a mortally horrific sight ...

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually a hydrogen bomb releases energy by fusing nuclei. Only heavy nuclei like uranium release energy if you split them; for light atoms like oxygen or carbon, it costs energy. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Aug 19 '16 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Both types of nuclear bombs (fission and fusion) convert some of the strong nuclear force into EM energy waves. That is what was intended. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Aug 20 '16 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ But for light atoms, you cannot release energy by fission (and for heavy ones not by fusion). And breaking down to fundamental particles is fission, not fusion. And BTW, if you broke down uranium to fundamental particles (as opposed to medium-weight nuclei) you'd also have to invest energy. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Aug 20 '16 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ sigh. just sigh $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Aug 20 '16 at 17:20

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