Viruses

In Chapter 1, we saw how, in the late 19th century, one disease after another, in plants as well as in animals, was shown to have a bacterial cause. In 1892, however, the Russian Dimitri Iwanowsky made a surprising discovery concerning the condition known as tobacco mosaic disease. He showed that an extract from an infected leaf retained the ability to transmit the disease to another plant even after being passed through a porcelain filter. This recently developed device was believed to remove even the smallest bacteria, and it was therefore proposed that perhaps the cause of the disease was not an organism, but a filterable toxin. The work of the Dutch botanist Martinus Beijerinck and others around the turn of the century, however, (see Table 10.1) led to the idea of viruses, filterable entities much smaller than bacteria, that were responsible for a wide range of diseases in plants, animals and members of the microbial world.

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