Ten seminal virologists

beijerinckIn my recent keynote address to the Brazilian Virology Society entitled The World of Viruses, I presented my list of ten seminal virologists. The idea to include such a discussion came from David Baltimore, who sent me the following note:

Since you have been thinking about the history of virology, I thought I would share a list with you. Someone asked me to list the 10 most important virologists in history. I came up with 12. But I wondered if you had to make such a list, who you would include.

David Baltimore’s list included the following individuals:

  • Jenner– the father of vaccination
  • Beijerinck– discovered the first virus
  • Rous– discovered tumor viruses
  • Enders– father of the polio vaccine, discovered how to grow viruses in cell culture
  • Lwoff– demonstrated latent infections with bacteriophage lambda
  • Stanley– first virus crystals
  • Klug– with Casper, described the principles of virus construction
  • Dulbecco– established the plaque assay for animal viruses, allowing quantitation– also found that tumor viruses integrate into host DNA
  • Delbruck– established viral genetics and, with Luria, was a father of molecular biology
  • Temin– suggested that there was a DNA intermediate in the growth of RNA tumor viruses and found the reverse transcriptase
  • Baltimore– found the first RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and the reverse transcriptase and established biochemical methods of virus investigation
  • Hilleman– made most of the vaccines in use today while working at Merck

Obviously such lists are very personal and will certainly differ (although there would likely be names in common). Here is the list of ten seminal virologists:

  • Beijerinck
  • D’Herelle – discovered bacteriophages
  • Theiler – produced the first infectious attenuated viral vaccine, yellow fever
  • Delbruck
  • Lwoff
  • Hershey – showed, with Martha Chase, that DNA carries the genetic information of bacteriophages
  • Enders – propagated an animal virus, poliovirus, in non-neural cell cultures
  • Klug
  • Baltimore
  • Doherty – discovered MHC restriction of T cell killing

I sent my list to David, who replied:

I suppose this is a discussion that could go on endlessly but I find Doherty a very odd choice (more an immunologist than virologist) and Hershey a surprising choice, although he makes sense for having shown that the guts of a virus is its nucleic acid. And I miss Rous and Stanley very much. When Stanley crystallized TMV he brought together chemistry and virology, made life a continuum from the inorganic and put viruses at the cusp. Then Hershey makes sense because he got inside the virus and found the key chemical. Rous, you might argue, did more for cancer research than for virus research but I still think that the link of viruses to cancer changed the trajectory of virus research.

Interesting discussion.

Rich Condit and Alan Dove also have their own lists of ten virologists, which we’ll share on an upcoming TWiV. Making such lists stimulates valuable discussion about discoveries that set the future course of virology. It’s very much like the discussion about whether or not viruses are alive – the answer is not as important as the thoughts involved in getting there.

Who would be on your list of ten seminal virologists?


11 thoughts on “Ten seminal virologists”

  1. Ivanofsky didn’t understand that the filterable agent of tobacco mosaic disease was something different – he thought it was a very small bacterium that could pass through his 0.2 micron filter. He was bound by Koch’s postulates – he could not grow the agent in broth and didn’t understand you needed cells. Beijerinck on the other hand realized that the agent needed a host to multiply in, and called it a new kind of agent, a contagium vivum fluidum. That’s why Beijerinck makes the list and Ivanofsky does not. That’s the beauty of a limited list, you have to make choices by understanding what exactly was done. PS neither did Baltimore include Ivanofsky.

  2. Now I see Hilleman there.

    You guys have probably covered much of the early, important virology so I got thinking about more contemporary virologists, particularly those whose research may inspire – and intellectually support this and next generations of investigators in the same way your lists may have done for you:

    (also added in some clearly personal ones)

    Eckard Wimmer – for his work on and support of synthetically designed viruses in both basic and applied research.

    Nathan Wolfe – for his work as a spokesman and setting up the Global Virus Forecasting Initiative who apply basic virology, ecology and social sciences to preventing pathogen emergence.

    Bali Pulendran who applies systems biology to study the mechanisms governing why some of our most successful vaccines are so good. I think even Theiler’s yellow fever vaccine.

    Edward Holmes – his extensive work on virus evolution, particularly RNA viruses

    Geoff Smith for his work on the early use and characterization of vaccinia virus expression vectors

    Michael Oldstone – understanding the basic mechanisms of virus pathogenesis

    David Baltimore – it appears any study of RNA viruses must be thankful for his work on reverse transcriptase

    Ab Osterhaus for his support of human and particularly veterinary virology at the ErasmusMC University, Rotterdam.

    Bert Rima (disclaimer – he’s one of my PhD supervisors) for his decades long research into the molecular biology of paramyxoviruses and for his work in investigating the role these viruses play in chronic illnesses, such as paget’s disease, MS and taking part in UK ‘vaccine trials’ re: MMR/autism.

    David Simpson – a Northern Irish born doctor who turned his eye on tropical hemorrhagic viruses only to return to Belfast to become head of Microbiology. Also investigated the parasitic health risks of being an Irish farmer.

    And, of course Vincent Racaniello for 1) cloning the first RNA virus and 2) supporting virology and public understanding of science.

  3. Nice list, Connor. I like the idea of making it contemporary, as opposed to historical, because clearly there are many important discoveries still being made. That’s the beauty of making such lists, everyone’s is different and will teach us something about the field. Many thanks for including me on this list – I am honored.

  4. These list are missing females, so I will include Harriet Robinson, for her work on DNA vaccines.  

  5. And nobody  knows P.V. GALTIER?? (1846-1908), died before winning Nobelprize for Rabies Vaccine……

  6. And nobody John BUIST, who showed Vaccina Virus in microscope (first virus in general!) 1886/87 in Scotland….(but named it micrococci)

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