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?