The word is from theLatin
referring to poisonand other noxious substances, first used inEnglish in 1392.
, from Latin
(poisonous), dates to 1400.
A meaning of "agent that causes infectious disease" is first recorded in 1728,
is also usedto refer to a single infective viral particle. The pluralis "viruses".
In 1892 the Russian biologistDmitry Ivanovskyused this filter to study what is now
known astobacco mosaic virus. His experiments showed that the crushed leaf extracts frominfected tobacco plants are still infectious after filtration. Ivanovsky suggested the infectionmight be caused by a toxin produced by bacteria, but did not pursue the idea.
At the time itwas thought that all infectious agents could be retained by filters and grown on a nutrientmedium—this was part of thegerm theoryof disease.
In 1898 the Dutch microbiologistMartinus Beijerinck repeated the experiments and became convinced that this was a new form of infectious agent.
He went on to observe that the agent multiplied only in dividing cells, but ashis experiments did not show that it was made of particles, he called it a
contagium vivum fluidum
(soluble living germ) and re-introduced the word
Beijerinck maintained thatviruses were liquid in nature, a theory later discredited by Wendell Stanley,who proved they
In the early 20th century, the English bacteriologist Frederick Twortdiscovered the viruses that
infect bacteria, which are now called bacteriophages,
and the French-Canadian microbiologistFélix d'Herelledescribed viruses that, when added to bacteria onagar , would produce areas of
dead bacteria. He accurately diluted a suspension of these viruses and discovered that the highestdilutions, rather than killing all the bacteria, formed discrete areas of dead organisms. Counting