Beijerinck's contribution to the virus concept : an introduction

A. van Kammen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The existence of viruses was first recognized when certain pathogens were found to pass through filters that otherwise stop bacteria. Pasteur made such observations in 1887 with the pathogen of rabies, but he thought that the pathogen was a very subtle microbe. In 1886 Adolf Mayer studied the mosaic disease of tobacco plants. He was unable to observe the least trace of a microbe, but still assumed that the pathogen was a bacterium. In 1892 Iwanovsky demonstrated that tobacco mosaic was caused by an agent that passed through bacteria-proof filters but he insisted till the end of his life that the tobacco mosaic virus was a small bacterium. Similar observations were made by Loeffler and Frosch in 1898 on foot-and-mouth disease of cattle. Beijcrinck confirmed the filterability of tobacco mosaic virus but confirmed its properties in more detail and then, in 1898, firmly concluded that tobacco mosaic virus is not a microbe but a contagium vivum fluidum. His idea that a pathogen can be a soluble molecule that proliferates when it is part of the protoplasm of a living cell was revolutionary and new. This new concept has laid the foundation of virus research and directed further studies on the nature of viruses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalArchives of Virology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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