Virus Discovery Timeline

This is a pocket reference version of my four-part “A Short History of the Discovery of Viruses” on my blog site.

History of Virus Discovery Notes

1886 – 1898: Demonstration of “filterable agent” infectivity, for Tobacco mosaic virus and Foot and mouth disease virus

1901: The first human virus described was the agent which causes yellow fever

1902 – 1906: Rinderpest, Vaccinia, Rabies and Cassava mosaic all shown to be filterable viruses

1908 – 1911: Avian leukosis and poliomyelitis and chicken sarcomas shown to be caused by viruses

1915 – 1917: Bacterial viruses discovered

1918-1922: The Spanish Flu kills more than 50 million people

1920 – 1927: More than 65 viruses had been described including Yellow fever virus

1929 – 1931: Human herpes simplex virus then yellow fever virus cultured by injection into the brains of live mice, allowing development of attenuated strains and YFV vaccines

1931: Discovery that influenza virus caused the disease in pigs

1930 – 1931: Proof that phages adsorb irreversibly to their hosts

1931: Fowlpox virus – a relative of smallpox – grown by inoculating the chorioallantoic membrane of eggs

1933: A virus isolated from humans infected with influenza from an epidemic then raging.

1934 – 1936: Bacteriophage consists of equal amounts of protein and DNA – the first proof that viruses are nucleoprotein

1935-1937: TMV crystallised, shown to be a nucleoprotein too

1936: “Pock assays” on chorioallantoic membranes of eggs for influenza and other viruses

1939:One step growth curve” experiment for phages shows they multiply inside cells

1949: The most important development for the study of animal viruses was the growing of poliovirus in cell culture

1952: Hershey-Chase experiment shows DNA is the genetic material of phages

1952 – 1954: mammalian cell monolayer cultures demonstrate “one virus, one plaque” principle for animal viruses.  Measles and adenoviruses discovered using cell culture.

1950 – 1963: development of killed (by 1954) and live (1963) polio virus vaccines, credited to Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin respectively

1955 – 1958: proof that viral RNA from TMV was the infectious component of the virus and that chemically-induced mutations in it affected the viral phenotype

1958: proof that the ssRNA genome of poliovirus was infectious

1953 – 1964: discovery of reoviruses, and proof that their genomes not only consisted of dsRNA, but were also segmented

1962: proof that ssRNA from TMV and coliphage f2 could be translated into viral proteins in a cell-free bacterial extract

1965 – 1967: in vitro synthesis of both ssRNA (Qbeta) and ssDNA (PhiX174) bacteriophage genomes

1967 – 1971: discovery and characterisation of infectious naked RNA viroids – shown to be circular ssRNA by 1976

1970: proof that RNA tumour virus particles (=retroviruses) contained RNA-dependent DNA polymerase activity that converted viral ssRNA into dsDNA

1972 – 1976: complete sequencing of the genome of ssRNA MS2 coliphage: “…“the first living organism for which the entire primary chemical structure has been elucidated”

1977: complete sequencing of the genome of PhiX174 coliphage: the first complete genome sequenced for any DNA-containing organism

1977: proof of RNA splicing in adenovirus transcripts: later found to common in eukaryotes but not prokaryotes

1978: complete genome sequence of SV40 polyomavirus: first proof of RNA splicing for an entire genome and of extensive overlapping ORFs

Sequencing of the first viroid genome – the first RNA ever sequenced using cDNA generated by retroviral reverse transcriptase and first complete structure for any pathogen

1979 – 1980: complete genome sequences of hepatitis B and cauliflower mosaic viruses, both shown to be pararetroviruses in 1983

1981: cDNA cloning and complete genome sequencing of poliovirus type 1, and proof that transfected cloned DNA transcribed RNA that was infectious in monkey cells

1982: complete genome sequencing of Tobacco mosaic virus

1986 – 1989: complete structural determination of TMV virions, including of the encapsidated RNA


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