In 1938, Helmut Ruska, a German physician and biologist, saw the potential of the electron microscope in the application to the field of biology. Helmut collected images, including the variola virus (which causes smallpox) and presented images of the virus particles at a meeting of the Medical Society of Berlin.
Nearly 80 years later, the electron microscope can identify all kinds of pathogens. There are an estimated 1.67 million viral species yet to be discovered.
Viruses were first named "filterable infectious agents." Experimentation revealed that these minute entities were capable of passing through filters that caught bacteria and other microorganisms.
In the 19th century, Dutch microbiologist and botanist Martinus Beijerinck demonstrated that viruses cause disease in plants. He applied the sap of sickly tobacco plant leaves to the leaves of healthy plants. The healthy plants produced spots on the leaves and malformed.
There are three dominant models of viruses that seem to complete each other.
In 1992, the giant virus, or mimivirus, was first observed during the pneumonia outbreak in England. Later the mamavirus and the even larger pandoravirus stretched the human perception of what it means to be a virus.
Giant viruses are not known to affect human health dramatically. The Asfivirus - the African swine fever virus - transmits from tick to pigs and causes hemorrhagic fever. It is closely related to a giant virus from the sewage in Marseille.
In intact ecosystems, like healthy forests, viruses and their wild hosts interact in a delicate balance. But when humans interfere, they can expose themselves to unknown viruses.
When humans modify landscapes, it encourages interactions between people and wildlife and can affect infectious disease emergence. Forest degradation has been associated with outbreaks of viruses that originated in wildlife, such as Nipah, Hendra, and the Ebola virus.
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