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Doctor Curmudgeon® And to Think…It Started With a Plant!

By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman, is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

In 1796 (before most of us were born), a British physician, Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine. Thus began the science of Immunology.

One hundred years later, the glimmerings of Virology crept onto the scientific scene in the form of a plant. A chain of events had begun to unfold which would eventually lead to the discovery of pathogens that became known as viruses.

Cowpox was a contagious disease, much milder than Smallpox, and so Dr. Jenner used fluid from a cowpox blister to create a vaccine.

He had no idea that he was creating the first anti-viral vaccine.

The first discovery of a virus actually came from a plant, called the Tobacco Mosaic Virus and was found in 1892 by Dimitri Ivanovsky.

Louis Pasteur had been searching for the cause of rabies and he realized that this had to be something too small to be seen even with a microscope. So, it fell to a French microbiologist, Charles Chamberland to develop a filter in 1884 that had pores even smaller than bacteria and he was able to capture this new type of pathogen.

Along came Martinus Beijerinck, a brilliant Dutch scientist, who is now known as one of the founders of Virology. In 1898, he published his work on the causative agent of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus. Using Chamberland filters, he was able to demonstrate that the pathogen was even smaller than a bacterium. His results agreed with the work of Dimitri Ivanovsky.

Ivanovsky and Beijerinck were unable to grow this filterable agent in a culture. Beijerinck then concluded that it was something liquid and could only replicate in living cells. In order to clarify that this agent was not a bacterium, he named it “virus.”

The Latin word “Virus” means a poisonous secretion, or venom.

It was many years later that the pathogen from the tobacco plant was shown to be particulate rather than a slimy liquid.

In early 1930, using a beam of electrons, that new-fangled electron microscope appeared and finally in 1939, the first electron micrographs allowed the Tobacco Mosaic Virus to reveal more of its surface structure.

But it was not until 1941, that x ray crystallographic analysis could examine its molecular structure and prove that this virus was really a particle, and not a liquid.
The Tobacco Mosaic Virus has the distinction of being the first virus to be crystallized and thus to have its structure revealed in detail.

A fascinating sequence of events:
electron micrographs
x ray diffraction crystallography.
creative, probing scientific minds.

And it all began with an ailing plant!

Dr. Curmudgeon suggests “Bitter Medicine”, Dr. Eugene Eisman’s story of his experiences–from the humorous to the intense—as a young army doctor serving in the Vietnam War.

Bitter Medicine by Eugene H. Eisman, M.D. –on Amazon

Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.

SERMO www.sermo.com “talk real world medicine”

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