If influenza genetics appears bedazzling to us lay people, looking for understanding is best found in the historic research on “bacteriophage”, or simply called “phage” research. Phages are described as the viruses that infect bacteria, although use of the word “infect” needs qualification. All complex living things are composites of cellular material including bacteria and viruses. The “Origin of Life” theorists claim that human beings are composed of 90% microbes. Evolutionary biologists are recognizing that viruses are essential biologically derived “chemicals” that further the processes of life. Living organisms synthesize their own viruses to perform complementary activity as part of their natural adaptation to the environment. Using the word “phage” instead of the word “virus”, the phages of bacteria “contribute to bacterial homeostasis in nature, keeping bacteria under control”. They “do not leave an ecological footprint — phages are comprised of and disintegrate into amino acids and nucleic acids, and are normal commensals of humans and animals.” Phages and viruses also arise from the very same acids and other available material in the environment. The shifting “transitional” forms are called “polymorphisms”. In the 19th century, Antoine Bechamp and Claude Bernard pioneered the study of polymorphisms and came into conflict with the “monomorphism” of Louis Pasteur from whom we get the basic “Germ Theory”. Pasteur, apparently, received his funding and support from Gustave de Rothschild, building state of the art laboratories in Paris and elsewhere. The commercial interests at the time were focused on the processes of fermentation, or harnessing bacteria for industrial use in food and beverage production.
A self-taught bacteriologist named Felix d’Herelle dubbed the “phage” in 1917 with a Greek name, meaning roughly “eater”, and became the most eminent of proponents for phage therapy. He believed they were organisms, as early virologists believed in the living status of virus. –“D’Herelle’s theory that the material is a living virus parasite of bacteria has not been proved. On the contrary, the facts appear to indicate that the material is inanimate, possibly an enzyme” — [ref. below].
Felix d’Herelle traveled the world as a contract bacteriologist to national governments, setting up fermentation operations in Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina, and France. In 1925 d’Herelle was hired as a ‘health officer’ of the League of Nations to monitor infectious diseases on board ships passing through the Suez Canal (wow, what a job! Suez was the one of the most strategic shipping channels on the globe). He lectured and taught in the United States at Stanford and Yale, and in 1933 he left the US and went to the USSR to found the Bacteriophage Institute in Tbilisi. He appears to have been a dedicated communist throughout his life and did not return to the US, although he maintained his activities including his businesses in France and Russia.
D’Herelle’s legacy in the US was organizing “one of the most extensive trials of phage therapy” called the Bacteriophage Inquiry, a project spanning the years 1927 to 1936, involving alot of human experimentation. After him, phage work was taken up by Max Delbruck, Salvador Luria and Alfred Hershey. A “phage group” was formed, involving the institutions primarily of Cold Spring Harbor Lab, California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) and Vanderbilt University. Summer sessions at Cold Spring Harbor on phage research became a yearly feature of genetic research. It is documented that over 800 scientific papers were published on phage research from its beginnings up through 1956. Influenza researchers avidly used phages to study human, swine and avian influenza viruses. One of the most prominent flu researchers, George K. Hirst, who worked under the auspices of the US Army as well as private institutions, notes that phage-influenza researches were “dropped” after this time. Where did it go? What were they learning? I’ll be back with answers to those questions and more.
Biography from wiki on Felix d’Herelle
This is a learning page on phages
Sequel: Understanding Virus and the Flu II and III, collated in the margin page as ‘INFLUENZA special’