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Bacteria, Viruses, and Protists

Virus Basics

What was the first virus to be isolated in a laboratory?

In 1935, American biochemist and virologist Wendell Stanley (1904–1971) of the Rockefeller Institute (known today as Rockefeller University) prepared an extract of the tobacco mosaic virus and purified it. The purified virus precipitated in the form of crystals. During this investigation, Stanley was able to demonstrate that viruses can be regarded as chemical matter rather than as living organisms. The purified crystals retained the ability to infect healthy tobacco plants, thus characterizing them as viruses, not merely chemical compounds derived from a virus. Subsequent studies showed that the tobacco mosaic virus consisted of a protein and a nucleic acid. Further studies showed that this virus consisted of RNA (ribonucleic acid) surrounded by a protein coat. Stanley was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1946 for his discovery.



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