The evolution of the disease: the history of the anti-virus

The history of our species is the story of the struggle with the viruses. A kind of evolutionary arms race in which no truce. Leading epidemiologists in the world has repeatedly spoken out about the fact that sooner or later announced a new infectious agent will have to fight. However, unlike the enemy, there is the advantage that we can prepare for “war” and our best weapon is the scientific method. Science without borders and prejudices, time and again ensures our triumphant victory. Viruses are tiny information system, encoded in DNA or RNA, and their main goal is survival. To survive, viruses need us, specifically our cells. And our survival depends on knowledge about viruses and the more we know, the higher the chances of winning.

Familiarity with viruses

In 1892, a graduate of St. Petersburg University Dmitry Ivanovsky became interested in the disease of tobacco leaves — they were wrinkled, covered with rusty stains and dried out. Ivanovo suggested that the disease should be the causative agent. To prove his theory, the scientist rubbed the leaves of the infected plants and then the juice is filtered through a cloth. To the strained juice no pathogenic bacteria were not plants, they are watered Iwanski, was ill in 80% of cases. Then, the scientist suggested that the bacteria causing the illness are very small and strained the water through a porcelain filter which does not pass even the smallest bacteria — but again to no avail. The conclusion of Ivanovo, subsequently changed the world — scientists have suggested the existence of organisms so small that they are not visible in an optical microscope.

A few years later the causes of the disease of tobacco leaves became interested in Dutch microbiologist Martin Beijerinck. The scientist came to the conclusion that the plants were struck by the poisonous liquid, which he called “virus” (from lat. — poison). However, it was a very strange poison: its concentration, as it usually happens, does not affect the result, and he was always the same. The source of the poison remained a mystery until 1932, while Professor Wendel Stanley from tons of infected leaves has not given a Cup of crystals. Crystals rubbing the leaves of healthy plants, he thereby caused them characteristic of the disease. But living beings can’t turn into crystals.This led Stanley to the conclusion that viruses are tiny protein molecules, not living organisms. But for the first time to see the virus was only seven years later with the help of electron microscope.

In fact, the virus is an information system (encoded in DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protective shell and is shaped by evolution to ensure its own replication and survival. All viruses can be considered as genetic elements, dressed in a protective protein coat and is able to move from one cell to another. Viruses grow only in living cells but infect everything, from the simplest single-celled organisms such as amoebas to complex multicellular organisms such as we. But bacteria themselves are cells and carry all of the molecular mechanisms required for their reproduction. As a result, they have unique biochemical paths, which are broad-spectrum antibiotics.

The fight against polio

The entire first half of the twentieth century, viruses were the cause of dangerous diseases, one of which was poliomyelitis — children’s spinal paralysis, which leads to pathologies of the Central nervous system. Despite the fact that the first mention of polio occur in the history of Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, with the first major epidemic the world has faced in 1905 in Sweden, after which the virus began its journey on the planet. By 1916 polio in one only new York, died on 2 thousand children. And in 1921, the disease struck the future President of the USA Franklin Roosevelt. In General, the epidemic of poliomyelitis in the twentieth century has become a national disaster in many countries.

After Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio in 1938, he founded the National organization for the fight against polio (eng. National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis). The Fund has collected donations that were used to search for vaccines and the production of machine beds for the sick. Meanwhile, the virus confidently strode across the planet. So, for the 1952 U.S. polio killed 3,145 and left paralyzed more than 20 thousand. The Soviet Union suffered comparable losses six years later. All this time the most effective way to “fight” against polio was the so-called “iron lung” in which the work is paralyzed respiratory muscles have made the change of air pressure. Patients affected by this disease until the end of life remained in boxes from where protruded the head and legs.

The invention of a vaccine only became possible in the mid-1950s years, but by 1961, polio was nearly eradicated. The first vaccine was invented by doctor Jonas Salk. By the time he got a job in the Roosevelt Foundation, scientists have learned to breed viruses in the kidney cells of monkeys and with the help of antibiotics to clear them from germs. Salk, in turn, decided to use formalin and to test the immunogenicity in monkeys. In 1952 received the vaccine, the scientist introduced himself, his wife and three sons. The vaccine proved to be safe and did not cause allergic reactions. In 1954, Salk got permission to inoculate 5 thousands of American schoolchildren in Pittsburgh. Subsequent analysis showed the presence of antibodies in the blood of schoolchildren, and the vaccine scientist was the first effective polio vaccine.

News about the invention of the vaccine instantly spread around the world and in the United States went scientists from around the world. A great contribution to the final invention of the vaccine was made by Soviet scientists Mikhail Chumakov and Anatoly Smorodintsev. The joint work of Soviet and American scholars took place in spite of the height of the cold war. In 1958, albert Sabine, the doctor of children’s hospital of Cincinnati came to the conclusion that when the virus is cultivated at lower temperatures, the winner in this artificially created natural selection become non-pathogenic strains. If this virus gets to the stomach, begin to multiply. It is non-pathogenic “live vaccine” while our antibodies perceive it as a normal poliovirus.

However, the use of Sabin vaccine in the United States considered unnecessary, as the Salk vaccine worked. Sabine then gave samples Chumakovo to check its effectiveness on the territory of the USSR. In January 1959, began a mass vaccination in which the vaccine received 15 million children in the various republics. Soon, the incidence of polio began to decline. But what about the Salk vaccine? It turned out that many people who have passed vaccination, she was stricken with polio. In the end, the greatest efficiency was shown modified Sabin vaccine, which by 1960 was available in more than 100 countries.

Thus, the first half of the twentieth century, including the Spanish flu pandemic and fight against the most dangerous virus in history, smallpox was also held under the auspices of the war on polio. Today humanity won almost complete victory over a great number of dangerous viral infections. But this does not mean that we are not in danger. So, to learn about the epidemic of the novel coronavirus CoVID-2019 read our special article.

Molecular history of viruses

Did you know that each of us has “virome” — number of resistant pathogens, which we are infected from birth. For example, a virus of simple herpes of 1st type, virus Epstein-Barr (causing glandular fever or “kissing disease” in teenagers) and cytomegalovirus (also a member of the family trust) accompany us through life. Modern DNA sequence analysis allows to draw a conclusion about how long was the relationship of Homo Sapiens with certain viruses. Thus, the data on that line virus T-cell leukemia human Type 1 (HTLV1), which causes leukemia and other diseases accompanied humanity for thousands of years.

Tuberculosis and malaria, as revealed through molecular analysis has often been the cause of death in Ancient Egypt — not be excluded that traces of these diseases will be discovered in more ancient DNA of Egyptian mummies. Currently available evidence suggests that the Egyptians also suffered from smallpox and polio. The Chinese pediatrician Wang Quan (1495-1585) identified smallpox and about the same time, the Chinese have begun the process of immunization of healthy people by insufflation into the nose the powdered material. Recognizable descriptions of influenza outbreaks date back to the year 1580, and in each of the 19th and 20th centuries there were three such events. With the exception of HIV / AIDS, which can be considered as “continuing” (1981) pandemic, the worst pandemic of modern times was the Spanish flu 1918/19 or the “Spanish flu”, which claimed the lives of 50 million people.

For this reason, it is not surprising the emergence of new strains of viruses. Like all other organisms on our planet, viruses adapt to changing environmental conditions. Moreover, one can observe cases when the virus is transmitted to humans from animals. So, the H1N1 flu is probably “jumped” from birds to people, and such viruses like SARS and MERS, outbreak which emerged in the 2000s, we got from bats. But while developing, we gave the virus the advantage of globalization. Open borders, the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world, the delivery of goods and food in different parts of the world — all these viruses have adopted.

So, human immunodeficiency virus 1-th type (HIV1) is the most visible form of the syndrome of acquired immunodeficiency (AIDS), “jumped” to the people also in the first half of the twentieth century. Presumably this happened when the hunter cut his hand, killing an infected chimpanzee. Then, as often happens, HIV-1 spread between people, while in 1981 were the first recorded cases of AIDS in the United States. You need to understand that many and varied factors influence such invasion of diseases from other species into our lives. The increase in population, the emergence of cities, high population density and close contact with wildlife can lead to the outbreak of different infections. The combination of a huge number of factors led to the emergence of CoVID-2019.

The case (not only) in men

We are certainly not the only species that can suddenly become infected by other vertebrates. Canine distemper (CDV), for example, have been found in spotted hyenas of the Serengeti, and the regular flash from the lions seem to have come directly from dogs or other wild animals including hyenas. Today we know that CDV is associated as the virus is now destroyed rinderpest and measles of man, which are closer to each other. The gene sequence suggests that these two pathogens diverged about 1000 years ago, possibly from an ancestor virus that are not identical to neither of them.