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Stanley, Wendell Meredith

virus nucleic infective crystalline

1904–71) US biochemist and virologist: isolated the first crystalline virus.

In his early years as a student Stanley’s main interest was football and he planned to become a coach. However, his interest in chemistry increased and after graduating at Illinois in 1929 he worked in Germany with , and then joined the Rockefeller Institute at Princeton in 1931. At about that time proved that several enzymes are crystallizable and are proteins. Stanley set out to find if the viruses could be purified by similar methods. Viruses are infective agents, too small to be filterable like bacteria and able to reproduce themselves in living cells. Stanley worked on the virus causing mosaic disease in tobacco plants (‘TMV’) and in 1935 he obtained it in fine needle-like crystals. By 1938 others found that it is a nucleoprotein. His work showed that a crystalline ‘chemical’ could also be ‘living’ (a new concept) and, since its infective part is the nucleic acid portion of the molecule, the work also suggested that reproduction in living systems might be understandable in chemical terms, involving nucleic acid – as was later shown by others to be the case.

Stanley’s later work in virology included the isolation of an influenza virus, and the preparation of a vaccine against it, during the Second World War. He shared a Nobel Prize in 1946.

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