Virology Began With Tobacco Mosaic Disease

The tobacco mosaic virus seen under 160,000× magnification (Public Domain)

How a Few Sick Tobacco Plants Led Scientists to Unravel the Truth About Viruses

by Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com

When German pathologist Robert Koch discovered the bacterium behind tuberculosis in 1882, he included a short guide for linking microorganisms to the diseases they cause. It was a windfall for germ theory, the modern understanding that pathogens can make us sick. But it didn’t only shake up the field of medicine: Botanists took note, too.

When a blight of mosaic disease threatened European tobacco crops in the mid-1800s, plant pathologists set out to identify its root cause. For decades, only one forward-thinking botanist, Martinus Beijerinck, realized the source was neither a bacterial nor a fungal infection, but something completely different: a virus.

Today, we know that viruses can be found nearly anywhere in the airoceans and soil. A tiny percentage of these are dangerous pathogens that cause disease, such as the current coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 causing a worldwide pandemic. Yet the study of viruses started not in medical science, but in botany, the study of plants. Viruses are so small—and so strange—that it would take decades for scientific consensus to agree that they exist at all.

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Carol graduated from Riverside White Cross School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio and received her diploma as a registered nurse. She attended Bowling Green State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Literature. She attended the University of Toledo, College of Nursing, and received a Master’s of Nursing Science Degree as an Educator.

She has traveled extensively, is a photographer, and writes on medical issues. Carol has three children RJ, Katherine, and Stephen – two daughters-in-law; Suzy and Katie – two granddaughters; Isabella Marianna and Zoe Olivia – and one grandson, Alexander Paul. She also shares her life with husband Gordon Duff, many cats, two rescue pups, and two guinea pigs.

Carol’s Archives 2009-2013

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