From the viewpoint of a materials scientist, viruses can be regarded as organic nanoparticles. They are composed of a small number of different (bio)polymers: proteins and nucleic acids. Many viruses are enveloped in a lipid membrane and all viruses do not have a metabolism of their own, but rather use the metabolic machinery of a living cell for their replication. Their surface carries specific tools designed to cross the barriers of their host cells. The size and shape of viruses, and the number and nature of the functional groups on their surface, is precisely defined. As such, viruses are commonly used in materials science as scaffolds for covalently linked surface modifications. A particular quality of viruses is that they can be tailored by directed evolution by taking advantage of their inbuilt colocalization of geno- and phenotypes. The powerful techniques developed by life sciences are becoming the basis of engineering approaches towards nanomaterials, opening a wide range of applications far beyond biology and medicine.