Virology Began With Tobacco Mosaic Disease

The tobacco mosaic virus seen under 160,000× magnification (Public Domain)

How a Few Sick Tobacco Plants Led Scientists to Unravel the Truth About Viruses

by Theresa Machemer/

When German pathologist Robert Koch discovered the bacterium behind tuberculosis in 1882, he included a short guide for linking microorganisms to the diseases they cause. It was a windfall for germ theory, the modern understanding that pathogens can make us sick. But it didn’t only shake up the field of medicine: Botanists took note, too.

When a blight of mosaic disease threatened European tobacco crops in the mid-1800s, plant pathologists set out to identify its root cause. For decades, only one forward-thinking botanist, Martinus Beijerinck, realized the source was neither a bacterial nor a fungal infection, but something completely different: a virus.

Today, we know that viruses can be found nearly anywhere in the airoceans and soil. A tiny percentage of these are dangerous pathogens that cause disease, such as the current coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 causing a worldwide pandemic. Yet the study of viruses started not in medical science, but in botany, the study of plants. Viruses are so small—and so strange—that it would take decades for scientific consensus to agree that they exist at all.

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  1. I know that the natural nicotinic acid AKA Niacin or B3 produced from smoking cigarettes counteracts the effects of radiation but effective against viruses. The plagues that struck the Americas after Columbus arrived say it wasn’t all that effective. Neither was burning sage but then these were natural viruses and bacteria so maybe it does have some effect against a synthetic virus which all evidence indicates this is.

    Also as you say it could be the chemicals that they put in the cigarette itself. Some manufacturers don’t use them while others do. I do know that the most popular brand in Asia happens to be Marlboros which happens to use a lot of additives.

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