The very first virus discovered is credited to the St. Petersburg Academy of Science on the 12th February 1892 by Dmitri Iwanowsk (1864-1920), a Russian botanist. While studying mosiac tobacco disease, he found that the agent causing the disease was small enough for pass though ceramic filter that are small enough to trap all bacteria. This is generally accepted as the beginning of Virology.

Dmitri Iwanowsk - definition.htm
Fig 2 - Dmitri Iwanowsk (1864-1920)

Six years later, 1898, Martinus Beijernick (1851-1931) confirmed Iwanowski's results on tobacco mosaic virus. He developed with the term "contagium vivum fluidum" which means “soluble living germ” as first the idea of the virus.

Martinus Beijernick (1851-1931) - definition.htm
Fig 3 - Martinus Beijernick (1851-1931)

The same year, the German scientists Friedrich Loeffler (1852-1915) and Paul Frosch, observed that a similar agent was responsible for foot-and-mouth disease. There was strong resistance that suggested these were not associated with human diseases.

Friedrich Loeffler (1852-1915) - definition.htm
Fig 4 - Friedrich Loeffler (1852-1915)

Yellow fever was a devastating plague that was the first virus to be identified by humans. Yellow fever has killed over tens of millions of deaths in past centuries. Yellow fever was thought to be as a mosquito-borne infection. It was not until 1901 that Walter Reed (1893-1902) discovered yellow fever was caused by a virus. Once mosquitoes were identified as the virus carrier, the introduction of aggressive mosquito control helped to suppress the problem.

Walter Reed (1893-1902) - about/curator-reed.html
Fig 5 - Walter Reed (1893-1902)

In 1915, Frederick Twort and in 1917, Felix D'Hérelle were first to describe bacteriophages, or viruses that infect bacteria. Many scientists started to use their findings to investigate virus structure, genetics, and replication.

Frederick Twort - definition.htm
Felix D'Hérelle - definition.htm
Fig 6 - Frederick Twort
Fig 7 - Felix D'Hérelle

In 1928, penicillin was the first antibiotic to be discovered by Alexander Fleming. However, antibiotics cannot cure viruses and there were no drugs developed at that time that could fight them. Viruses are hard to cure because they live inside the body’s own cell, making if hard for the immune system to attack. It was not until the 1970’s that there were drugs available to the general public. In 1798, the first vaccine against viruses was created by Edward Jenner against smallpox.

Alexander Fleming - flemming.html
Edward Jenner - immun.html
Fig 8 - Alexander Fleming
Fig 9 - Edward Jenner

In 1930, the first virus was seen by the human eye. New technology advances and the introduction of the electron microscope helped us to vaguely see what a virus looks like. Detailed identification and characterization of viruses began as better techniques at studying viruses and more powerful microscopes were developed.

Fig 10 - SARS virus shown on a modern electron microscope

Today, modern day technology and medical advances are changing and advancing each day. Thanks to these new advances we have a better understanding of viruses and new techniques to fight viruses. There are still many viruses where a cure is yet to be discovered. However, with the new advances, hopefully we’ll find a way to cure them all.

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Project created by James Li. Sir Winston Churchill High School Grade 11. 2004.