The "Virus" Model
Throw it in the trash where it belongs.
I recently went through the origins of the “virus” concept that was born in the late 1800s by pseudoscientific evidence generated for Tobacco Mosaic “Virus” (TMV) and Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). It was abundantly clear that, at the time of the creation of the “virus” concept, there was (and still is) no direct evidence that these pathogenic entities existed. In fact, there was controversy over whether the lab-created phenomenon attributed to the invisible “filterable viruses” was due to microscopic entities or that it was nothing more than effects created by a poison passing through “bacteria-proof” filters. There was no firm definition for what a “virus” was at the time other than the original Latin meaning of the word.
The word “virus,” which literally means “poison” in Latin, was co-opted by Martinus Beijerinck in 1898 for the creation of the “filterable virus” concept. He described his entities as Contagium vivum fluidum, i.e. contagious living fluid. However, Beijerinck never made any attempts to prove his hypothetical entities either theoretically or experimentally. In fact, his ideas were initially rejected and disregarded by the scientific community. Thus, the “virus” was an unproven idea built solely upon indirect evidence of experimental effects attributed to an entity that was not present. We can find confirmation of this from the sixth edition of Introduction of Modern Virology, where it is stated that the idea of the “virus” was presented entirely in negative terms as the entities were invisible, could not be cultivated, and were not retained by bacteria-proof filters.
“Thus the first definition of these new agents, the viruses, was presented entirely in negative terms: they could not be seen, could not be cultivated in the absence of cells and, most important of all, were not retained by bacteria-proof filters."
This inability to completely define exactly what a “virus” was persisted over the decades as the indirect evidence that the researchers relied upon for their own interpretations was often contradictory and could not be reproduced experimentally. While defenders of virology love to paint the picture that the evidence for “viruses” was a continual process of accepted and agreed upon revelations accumulated over time that elucidated the nature of the invisible entities, according to Karlheinz Lütke's 1999 paper The History of Early Virus Research, nothing could be further from the truth. The filterable “virus” was a concept that could not be defined in a way that all researchers could agree upon. Different interpretations and experimental evidence clashed against each other. There was nothing that could be put forward as “facts” to the public that could not be reinterpreted as fictitious by opponents. As researchers were unable to repeat the experiments of others or they would get findings that would be completely contradictory, this led to the conclusion that the prior research was false. In other words, despite decades of gathering evidence trying to explain the “virus” concept, researchers could not even agree as to what a “virus” was:
“The history of virus research in the 20th century is usually described as a continuous process, a history of progressive revelation of the nature of the virus (see Waterson 1978: xii; Hughes 1977: 75 ff.; for a critique of this concept see van Helvoort 1994a: 187). Our analysis of the case study material has, however, revealed many things that lead away from such a historical picture. In particular, it has been shown that the refinement and expansion of experimental means and procedures, which are generally seen as a guarantee for uninterrupted progress in the knowledge of nature, had tended to lead to setbacks in the period under consideration (for example, in the development of virus classification) and had widened the gap between the conflicting parties in virus research. With the “filterable” virus, something had been discovered which, according to the traditional concepts, which after all had mostly proved their worth in research into infectious diseases, could not be described in a way that all researchers could have shared. Very different interpretations of the nature of this phenomenon arose, which were put forward against each other. No experimental evidence for this or that concept, which all researchers should have accepted, could be presented by any side. In other words, the decision as to whether this or that explanation most accurately expresses the “true” nature of the virus could not be “objectified” empirically. Every version of the interpretation of the phenomenon remained open to attack, facts presented to the expert public could often be reinterpreted into fictions by opponents, who brought into play the dependence of the findings on the conditions of observation, the local situation of the experiments, the research-related nature of the attributions of characteristics, etc. as sources of error. For example, findings often reported by certain virus researchers at the time were not confirmed by other researchers as a result of their own experiments, or the observations could not be reproduced by all scientists working with the virus. Often, findings to the contrary were reported, or the findings that had been examined were considered artefacts. As with justification, reasons of various kinds could be invoked to reject the positions debated. Findings that were used to empirically confirm a suspected connection were often soon joined by negative findings reported by other researchers. However carefully and deliberately the techniques used in the experiments were employed, and despite the fact that each party could offer credible reasons for defending their respective positions and provide empirical evidence – which explains why “the various opponents ‘constructed’ widely diverging research objects which they identified as the ‘virus'” (van Helvoort 1994a: 202) – at no time did they offer compelling reasons that would have led the other party to finally abandon artifact accusations.”
It wasn't until the late 1950's that a definition for a “virus” was proposed that seeked to combine all of the disparate and contradictory evidence together into an agreeable whole. In Chapter 4 of Alfred Grafe's A History of Experimental Virology, it is stated that French microbiologist Andre Lwoff attempted to define what a “virus” is at the 24th meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in 1957. In order to do so, Lwoff had to reconcile three divergent concepts about the nature of a “virus” in order to determine whether these invisible entities were actually micro-organisms or chemical molecules:
“Experimental results on a broad range of viruses accumulated by 1957 encouraged A.Lwoff working at the Institute Pasteur, Paris, to define a virus at the 24th meeting of the Society for General Microbiology. This demanded critical discussion of the three divergent concepts concerning the nature of the virus. One, associated with names like Burnet and Andrewes, defined the virus as a microorganism. The diametrically opposite view was that of Stanley, who maintained that viruses were chemical molecules. Third, Bawden and Pirie simply substituted "molecules" for "small organisms".
In a 2020 article published by the Royal Society, it is stated that Lwoff did not present any new ideas or data. Rather, he attempted to synthesize the old research into his definition for what a “virus” is. In order to do so, Lwoff relied upon the bacteriophage as the model for the concept of a “virus:”
“Barely four years after the publication of his review article, Lwoff was invited to deliver a lecture to the Society for General Microbiology. Entitled ‘The concept of virus’, this lecture holds an indisputable and well-deserved place in the history of biology as containing the first formulation of the ‘modern’ definition of virus. But it is fairly clear from its content and tone that the lecture was a synthesis rather than a presentation of new data or ideas. Using the bacteriophages as the model for viruses in general, Lwoff gave substance to his earlier hopes for establishing a clear demarcation between viruses and non-viruses. Or, as he rather colourfully put it, drawing on history as well as philosophical and scientific discussions on the nature and origins of life, it was his ‘ambition to show that the word virus has a meaning, [and] to defend a paradoxical viewpoint, namely that viruses are viruses’.”
The bacteriophage serving as the model for the “virus” was highlighted by Lütke's paper as well, stating that there was “practical research interest in the question of whether the phage could be used as a model object for virus research, where essential aspects of virus behaviour could be studied.” It was decided that it was sensible to try to learn everything possible from this “easy-to-handle experimental subject” before moving on to more difficult “viruses” that required plant or animal materials for testing.
As the bacteriophage served as the model for the modern concept for what the “virus” ultimately is, it is important to understand exactly what a bacteriophage is, how it was discovered, and how it came to be considered as a “virus” in the first place. Thus, I have divided this article into three sections focusing on these aspects, with the first exploring the controversial origins of the phage, the second examining Lwoff's “phage-virus” model, and the third explaining the misconception of the phage as a pathogenic entity. What will be seen is that the history of the bacteriophage is replete with disagreements and contradictions regarding its true nature. For many researchers, the model that became the modern day “virus” wasn't even a “virus” at all. It was a misinterpretation.
As can be seen by the above definition, the bacteriophage (bacteria-eater) is considered to be a “virus” that only “infects” bacteria. It is claimed that bacteriophages, which are smaller than bacteria, are independent parasites that are able to penetrate a bacterium and replicate through a process called lysis. This is how the idea that “viruses” require a host cell in order to replicate came about. However, this idea was not present at the time of the discovery of the bacteriophage. In fact, the researcher credited with originally discovering these entities, Frederick William Twort, wasn't convinced that he had a micro-organism at all.
Part 1: The Twort-d'Herelle Controversy
According to the Royal Society's 1951 obituary for Twort, he stumbled upon what eventually became known as bacteriophages while unsuccessfully searching for nonpathogenic “viruses” in nature. While attempting to grow a pathogenic agent from the vaccine lymph using artificial media without a host cell, Twort noticed “watery-looking areas” on the agar surface along with “glassy and transparent” colonies of contaminating cocci. If a trace of the “glassy material” was introduced to unaffected colonies, they would develop the same transparent change. Similar to the unobservable “filterable virus,” the “glassy material,” when enormously diluted, passed through a porcelain filter and still maintained high activity. Twort viewed this as a disease that he could pass on from culture to culture, but admitted that “the transparent material will not grow by itself on any medium.” According to Twort's 1915 paper An Investigation on the Nature of Ultra-Microscopic Viruses, “the transparent material was inoculated into various animals and was rubbed into the scratched skin of guinea-pigs, rabbits, a calf, a monkey, and a man; but all the results were negative.”
Twort did not attempt to draw any definite conclusions about his work and left open the door to many possibilities as he stated that they “do not know for certain the nature of an ultra-microscopic virus.” He felt that whatever it was could be a minute bacterium or even an amoeba. While Twort stated that he did not definitely disprove that it was a “virus,” he believed that the lytic principle that he had discovered was not a separate form of life, but rather an enzyme which was secreted by the bacterium itself. This meant that whether a bacteriophage was a “virus” or not was unsettled at the time Twort published his paper in 1915 and, as pointed out by the Royal Society in 1951, the matter was “still open” amid a state of confusion drawn by Twort's conclusions. In fact, the Royal Society stated that Twort's papers were uncovered by those who were in opposition to the idea that the bacteriophage was a living “virus,” and that the papers were used in defense of it being a ferment that was secreted by the bacterium itself:
“Apparently he and his brother, the late Dr C. C. Twort, had for some years been trying to grow viruses in artificial media hoping to find a nonpathogenic virus, which might be the wild type of a pathogenic and so more likely to grow. This work was abortive, but in the course of trying to grow a pathogenic agent from vaccine lymph Twort noticed that the agar surface often showed ‘watery-looking areas’ and that colonies of contaminating cocci which grew became glassy and transparent. It was, however, possible to obtain colonies which did not undergo this change and if these were touched with a trace of glassy material they developed the transparent change. Young cultures were more susceptible to change than old ones. Dead cultures were unaffected. The glassy material, enormously diluted, passed through a porcelain filter and was still highly active. He refers to this change in the coccus as a ‘disease’ which can be propagated indefinitely from culture to culture, ‘but the transparent material will not grow by itself on any medium’, although it will remain active for over six months. It seemed to be specific to staphylococcus but very much less active on aureus and albus strains from man. It had no effect on animals.
These are the observations which show clearly that Twort discovered most of the essential features of the ‘lytic principle’ which was, two years later, rediscovered by d’Herelle and named the ‘bacteriophage’.
Twort admitted that it was difficult to draw definite conclusions from these results, and he did not do so. Instead he mentioned all possibilities which occurred to him and left it at that.
The lytic principle might be a minute bacterium or an amoeba, but these would be highly organized cells which in accordance with theories of evolution are likely to have been derived from much more primitive forms of life, for instance an ultramicroscopic virus or ‘living protoplasm that forms no definite individuals, or an enzyme with power of growth’. On the whole he favours the idea that the principle is not a separate form of life but an enzyme which is secreted by the coccus itself. However, the virus possibility had not been ‘definitely disproved’.
It is fair to say that supporters of any present views of the nature of bacteriophage or of viruses could find comfort in some of Twort’s suggestions, and that, as is always the case in biology, the matter is still open. On the other hand the great majority of workers, especially those more biologically inclined, would not favour the suggestion that the principle derived from the host bacterium and was not a separate living entity. It is not a question of deciding whether Twort was right or wrong, but of admitting that he started a field of admirable confusion which has not yet been clarified.
At the time of Twort’s publication most of his contemporaries were involved in a major war and it is not surprising that so revolutionary an idea presented in a manner so trivial failed to attract general notice. However, in 1917, Felix d’Herelle, a Canadian working at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, published his
first paper on the ‘Bacteriophage’. This he boldly alleged to be a virus which caused an infectious disease of bacteria and he spent the whole of his life forcing his views on his contemporaries by a large number of elaborate and ingenious experiments. d’Herelle appears to have been a forceful character who promoted opposition, and to some extent the opposing forces were responsible for the rediscovery of Twort as a tactical weapon. The chief contention was that d’Herelle held the bacteriophage to be a living independent virus while others thought that it was some sort of ‘transmissible lytic principle’, which was more in agreement with Twort’s idea ‘that this material was not an ultramicroscopic virus growing on the living micro-organisms, but was a ferment secreted by the micro-organism for some purpose not altogether clear’ (Twort & Twort 1921).
Whatever the future may determine on this matter, Twort’s name has properly, on the suggestion of Gratia, been associated with that of d’Herelle as co-discoverer of the phenomenon."
It is clear that Frederick William Twort did not believe that he had discovered a “virus.” He felt that his experiments showed that he was dealing with an enzyme secreted by the bacterium itself. Thus, what he had observed was an endogenous process that was initiated within the bacterium rather than something attributed to an exogenous invader from outside of the bacterium. It wasn't until two years later that the idea was proposed that this lytic process was due to the work of an exogenous “virus” known as the bacteriophage.
In a 1917 paper titled On An Invisible Microbe Antagonistic Toward Dysenteric Bacilli, French microbiologist Felix d'Herelle claimed to have isolated from the stools of patients recovering from bacillary dysentery, and in one case from the urine, “an invisible microbe endowed with antagonistic effects toward the Shiga bacillus.” His isolation process consisted of inoculating a nutrient broth tube with 4-5 drops of stool, placing this in an incubator at 37°C for 18 hours, and then filtering the resultant culture using a Chamberland L2 candle. From this, a tiny quantity of the active filtrate was added either to a broth culture of Shiga bacilli or to an emulsion of the bacilli in broth or saline solution. This was said to cause the arrest of the culture, the death of the bacilli, and then lysis. From this, d'Herelle claimed that an “invisible microbe” grew in the lysed Shiga culture, as using a trace amount of this liquid and transfering it to a new Shiga culture reproduced the same phenomenon with the same intensity. Felix d’Herelle stated that he had “observed that the disappearance of the dysenteric bacillus coincided with the appearance of an invisible microbe endowed with antagonistic properties toward a pathogenic bacillus.” He claimed that this invisible microbe was a veritable ‘‘microbe of immunity,” and called it “an obligate bacteriophage.”
By various accounts, Felix d'Herelle's claims to have discovered a “virus” of bacteria were rather boisterous and controversial. In the Royal Society's obituary of Twort, it is stated that d'Herelle “boldly alleged” the bacteriophage to be an “infectious” disease-causing “virus” of bacteria and that “he spent the whole of his life forcing his views on his contemporaries.” In Chapter 4 of the 2014 book by Milton Taylor Viruses and Man: A History of Interactions titled The Discovery of Bacteriophage and the d’Herelle Controversy, d'Herelle was described as “obviously a very colorful and controversial character.” He lacked training in microbiology as well as a formal education and an academic degree. His “discovery” of the bacteriophage, which d'Herelle stated was made independently and without knowledge of Twort's work, led to the controversy of whether it was a “virus” as he had envisioned or whether it was some sort of catalytic enzyme produced by the host cells leading to their own destruction. Twort's own unwillingness to claim that his lytic principle was due to a “viral infection,” and his belief that it was autocatalysis caused by an enzyme secreted by the bacterium “had serious consequences” that fueled this heated debate on whether bacteriophages were “viruses” or an autocatalytic enzyme.
Roped into the argument was Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Jules Bordet who was the director of the Pasteur Institute in Brussels at the time, and considered one of the foremost leaders in “infectious” disease immunology. Like Twort, he did not believe that bacteriophages were independent “viruses.” Bordet, and even some of d’Herelle’s own colleagues, stated that the destruction of the bacterial cells resulted from autocatalysis, i.e. a chemical compound is able to catalyze its own formation. He saw lysis as “belonging to the physiology of the bacterium,…a hereditary nutritive vitiation consisting of the production by [the bacteria themselves] of a sort of lytic ferment, capable moreover, of diffusing into the surrounding liquid medium and consequently affecting normal microbes of the same species in the same way.” According to the 2020 article published by the Royal Society, the majority of the bacteriological community sided with the views of Bordet. These contrasting viewpoints led to “stormy sessions” between d'Herelle's group on one side facing off with Bordet and other immunologists on the other side:
“Without a doubt, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding d’Herelle’s discovery and his interpretation of data. This in part originated from the character of d’Herelle himself, as well as from bitter scientific rivalries. D’Herelle was an adventurer who travelled to many countries on many continents. He had no formal education in microbiology, although his self-learned techniques were exemplary. This lack of a formal education and thus an academic degree meant that he did not have a stable position at any institute. He was given space in different laboratories at the Pasteur Institute, but did not really have a lab or financing of his own until later in life. His discovery of bacteriophage led to the controversy of whether this was a virus (as he proposed) or some catalytic enzyme produced by the host cells that led to their own destruction. His major adversary was the Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Jules Bordet, who refused to believe that bacteriophage were independent viruses, but tried to fit d’Herelle’s data into his own interpretation, based on the interaction of anti-sera and complement leading to lysis of the bacterial cell. He proposed (as did Twort earlier, and even some of d’Herelle’s own colleagues) that the destruction of the bacterial cells resulted from autocatalysis . It appears that there were stormy sessions at various scientific meetings between d’Herelle and his supporters on the one side, and Bordet and other immunologists on the other. Even as late as 1934, a paper by Monroe Eaton and Stanhope Bayne-Jones  in the Journal of the American Medical Association still questioned the concept of bacteriophage as viruses and listed a long list of failures of bacteriophage therapy in experimental animals, although there was some success in the treatment of staphylococci infections and enteric infections. This paper is particularly biased against the use of bacteriophage as curative agents and even doubts the existence of bacteriophage.”
This matter on the true nature of the bacteriophage was not immediately resolved. There were many hypotheses floating about at the time regarding what was occuring within these cultures. As pointed out above, a 1934 paper titled Bacteriophage Therapy: Review of the Principles and Results of the Use of Bacteriophage in the Treatment of Infections by Monroe Eaton and Stanhope Bayne-Jones published in the Journal of the American Medical Association not only questioned the concept of bacteriophage as “viruses,” providing a long list of failures of bacteriophage therapy in experimental animals, but also questioned their very existence. The paper also highlighted the various competing theories at the time.
Regarding d'Herelle's theory, it was mostly supported by his contention that propagating the lytic agent in serial cultures was evidence of multiplication. D'Herelle also relied on “apparent adaptation,” immunological reactions, and comparisons to the concept of the filterable “virus” as support of his theory. While the authors state his views were plausible, d'Herelle's ideas were not generally accepted and were no more convincing than the competing theories. D'Herelle's unproven theory, however, had been utilized by special interests in the creation of experimental therapies.
1. d'Herelle has always contended that the bacteriophage is a living submicroscopic virus, parasitic on susceptible bacteria. The principal point of evidence in favor of this view is the fact that the lytic agent may be propagated indefinitely in cultures of susceptible bacteria. d'Herelle regards this as evidence of multiplication. Phenomena of apparent adaptation, antigenic specificity and analogies to filtrable viruses are cited by d'Herelle as additional support for his opinion. These and other arguments advanced by d'Herelle are plausible and are not refuted by the facts. They have not, however, been accepted generally and are not more convincing than other lines of evidence in favor of other views. It is obvious that the theory of d'Herelle is of great scientific influence and importance. Unfortunately it has been exploited detrimentally by manufacturers of commercial bacteriophage preparations, as has been pointed out in several editorials in The Journal on the "bacteriophage metaphor."
Many investigators viewed bacteriophages as an enzyme or activator of an endocellular hydrolytic bacterial enzyme that originated within the bacterium. Supporting this theory was the “absence of convincing evidence of the living nature of bacteriophage” along with results of studies on the mode of action of the lytic principle and the effects of substances on it.
2. Many investigators have regarded the bacteriophage as an inanimate substance, perhaps an enzyme or activator of an endocellular hydrolytic bacterial enzyme, having its origin in the bacterial cell which it lyses and, being capable of lysing other cells, increasing in amount in the process. The absence of convincing evidence of the living nature of bacteriophage and the results of studies on the mode of action of the lytic principle, and the effects of substances on it, have favored this theory. A review of this evidence has been presented by Bronfenbrenner. More recent evidence in support of it has been provided by Krueger and Tamada, Krueger and Northrop, Hetler and Bronfenbrenner and Krueger and Baldwin.
Bordet and companions viewed bacteriophages as inanimate substances that affected the normal processes of the sensitive bacteria. It was viewed as a hereditary process where the bacterial cells liberated substances that affected other sensitive bacteria.
3. Bordet and his associates, Arkwright and other investigators have held the opinion that bacteriophage is an inanimate substance which affects physiologic or hereditary processes of the sensitive bacteria in such a way that early death and autolysis of the culture is brought about. This tendency to rapid autolysis may be transmitted from generation to generation by heredity, and autolysis of the cells liberates the substance that may in turn affect other sensitive bacteria.
Philip Hadley, on the other hand, viewed bacteriophages as a filtrable stage in a complex life cycle of a bacterium. This is very much in line with the concept of pleomorphism, which has demonstrated that bacteria are capable of changing form depending upon the state of environment that they are in. According to Hadley's theory, the bacteriophage “stimulates the microscopically visible bacteria of the culture to pass into a submicroscopic filtrable stage.” This process was said to be reversible in that the bacteria of the original species could be recovered from filtrates of the lysed cultures. Hadley's theory will be important to the discussion later on.
4. Hadley, like d'Herelle, has emphasized the ability of the bacteriophage to induce rapid and extensive variation in bacterial cultures, aside from its lytic activity. This fact, coupled with other lines of evidence, has led Hadley to postulate that the bacteriophage is a filtrable stage in a complex life cycle of a bacterium. According to this view, the bacteriophage stimulates the microscopically visible bacteria of the culture to pass into a submicroscopic filtrable stage. This theory resembles the older “splitter” theory of Bail and has some elements in common with discussions of the possible independent viability of genes. The occasional late growth of bacteria in lytic filtrates and observations made with serial transfers have been the basis of the claims made by Hadley and by Kendall and Walker that this process can be reversed and that living, microscopically visible, bacteria of the original species can be recovered from filtrates of lysed cultures. Adequate confirmation of this work is lacking at present.
The fiery debate raged from the 1920s on to the 1950s as d'Herelle's view of the bacteriophage as a “virus” was regularly challenged. According to an in-depth paper on this controversy by Ton Van Helvoort titled The Construction of Bacteriophage as Bacterial Virus: Linking Endogenous and Exogenous Thought Styles, the main challenge to the “virus” claim, especially by many British researchers, was that the bacteriophage was a product of the bacterium. In other words, bacteriophages were not independent free-floating outside parasitic invaders looking to highjack a suitable host in order to replicate. They were simply a survival process initiated by the bacterium:
“A second consequence of the "modern concept of virus" was that fierce controversies over the nature of bacteriophage, which had lasted for several decades, were considered to be "resolved." The bacteriophage was a "serially transmissible" principle that could lyse or dissolve a bacterial culture; this lytic phenomenon was called bacteriophagy. In 1917 Felix d'Herelle coined the term "bacteriophage" and claimed that the principle was filterable and increased in number when the bacterial culture was lysed. To d'Herelle it was beyond doubt that bacteriophage was a living virus that parasitized the bacterium; therefore, bacteriophagy had to be seen as a virus disease. The correctness of this point of view, however, was challenged by many in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Those who questioned the viral nature of bacteriophage often defended the notion that bacteriophage was a product of the bacterium. Among the objectors were many British researchers, as is clear from their reaction to the publication of Filterable Viruses in 1928: this textbook contained a chapter on bacteriophage that, according to the editor, Thomas M. Rivers, "caused some furor, because some virologists - particularly some British workers - refused to accept phage as a virus."
Van Helvoort argued that the “existence of viruses” as a specific category could not be used as an argument for the justification of consensus that the bacteriophage is a “virus,” because the consensus was the outcome of the negotiating process. The category of the bacterial “virus” was borne out of the controversies that were ultimately shaped into a consensus by Lwoff in 1957. This consensus was manufactured when Lwoff attempted to fit the contradictory elements of the bacteriophage (seen as either independent of or a part of the bacterium) into a working definition that included both ideas:
"In modern sociology of science, however, it is argued that the description of nature that is given in the natural sciences is the result of the formation of consensus in "construction processes." In his Science in Action Bruno Latour expressed this as follows: "Since the settlement of a controversy is the cause of Nature's representation, not its consequence, we can never use this consequence, Nature, to explain how and why a controversy has been settled.'' Nature - in this case, the existence of viruses as a specific category - may therefore not be used as an argument for the justification of consensus, because the latter was the outcome of the negotiating process. In other words, the controversies and the formation of consensus relating to the nature of bacteriophage cannot be explained by pointing out that a natural category of viruses of bacteria was studied from different disciplines. This will be clear when we realize that those who interpreted bacteriophage as a product of the bacterium in the 1920s to the 1940s did not conceive of the lytic principle as a bacterial virus.
The formation of consensus was the very reason that bacteriophage could be regarded simultaneously as a bacterial virus and as a product of the bacterium - or, as a corollary to this point of view, that the exogenous and autonomous nature of a virus in general was reconciled with the notion of a virus as a product of the host cell. In current virology the question, Is bacteriophage a bacterial virus? is answered in the affirmative. The formation of this consensus must be analyzed by investigating how the different notions were linked in the 1950s and how entities named bacteriophages were conceptually constructed as bacterial viruses."
Van Helvoort stated that his investigation into this controversy led him to define this conflict as being between two different styles of thought: an exogenous (outside of an organism) thought style and an endogenous (within an organism) thought style. The exogenous thinkers, which included d'Herelle and his cohort, viewed the phage as an outside “viral” invader of bacteria. The endogenous thinkers, including Twort, Bordet, and many others, viewed the process as part of the bacterial metabolism from within. In fact, going back to the 2020 article published by the Royal Society, Bordet and his partner Ciuca in Belgium, as well as a pair of investigators in Germany, observed that lysis sometimes appeared spontaneously in cultures of dysentery bacteria maintained in the laboratory. This phenomenon happened without any sort of special stimulus and without the addition of an external source of bacteriophage. The spontaneous lysis produced a substance that was capable of transmitting the lytic ability in the same manner as d'Herelle had originally described. Thus, the lysis occurred without the presence of any “viral” particles, making it clear to them that the phages were a part of the bacterium itself rather than an independent “infectious” outside invader.
Bordet viewed bacteriophages as a lifeless ferment, and his investigations led him to the conclusion of a transmissible autolysis. He claimed that the transmissible lytic principle “undoubtably had to be characterized as lifeless and as not organized.” He felt that there was no need to explain bacteriophagy via the concept of a “virus” and posed the question “is it not more rational to think that the virus does not exist, that the intense action of the bacteriophage represents nothing more than the pathological exaggeration of a normal function connected with mutations, and that this lysis is, in reality...a transmissible autolysis?”:
“That bacteriophage had to be considered a lifeless ferment was also the viewpoint taken by Jules Bordet and Mihai Ciuca. They investigated the effect on Bacillus coli bacteria of injecting them into the peritoneum of the guinea pig. By heating the peritoneal exudate - which meant that the bacteria were killed - these scientists isolated a principle that could lyse a fresh culture of B. coli. From the transmissibility of the phenomenon it followed that the lysis of the bacteria produced a large quantity of the lytic principle. Bordet and Ciuca concluded that they had found a phenomenon of transmissible autolysis."
"In December 1930 Jules Bordet presented the Croonian Lecture to the Royal Society of London. On this occasion he once again stated his position in regard to the cause of bacteriophagy and the nature of the lytic principle. He claimed that the transmissible lytic principle undoubtedly had to be characterized as lifeless and as not "organized." He explained the "multiplication" of bacteriophage by pointing to an analogy from physiology - namely, autocatalytic processes. The serial transmissibility of the coagulation of blood by serum was to him an example of the analogy between a physiological autocatalytic process and transmissible bacterial autolysis. He felt absolutely no need to explain bacteriophagy in terms of an exogenous and living virus: "is it not more rational to think that the virus does not exist, that the intense action of the bacteriophage represents nothing more than the pathological exaggeration of a normal function connected with mutations, and that this lysis is, in reality...a transmissible autolysis?" Thus, Bordet explained bacteriophagy as resulting from a disturbance of the metabolism or physiology of the bacterium. His research can therefore be characterized as belonging to the endogenous thought style of bacteriophage research."
Dr. Albert Kruger, a University of California bacteriologist, used his own studies to reject d'Herelle's theory of phage multiplication, i.e. the phage high jacking the bacterial cell in order to replicate itself. He showed that lysis of the culture could happen rapidly just by adding more purified phages to a culture. Dr. Kruger was convinced that the formation of bacteriophage was determined by bacterial reproduction based upon its physiology rather than due to lysis of the bacterium:
“The central issues in bacteriophage research included the mechanism by which bacteriophage was formed, the dependence of this formation on the metabolism of the bacterial host cell, and the role of bacterial lysis. Based upon his chemically oriented studies, Krueger rejected the mechanism for phage multiplication that had been proposed by d'Herelle - namely, the entrance of phage into the cell, the multiplication of phage, and the liberation of phage progeny with lysis of the bacterium. Krueger had at least two arguments for dismissing this scheme. His first was that a bacterial culture could be lysed in a very short time span by adding an excess of purified phage (P >> B); his second was his conviction that the formation of bacteriophage was determined by bacterial reproduction (and thus bacterial physiology), and not by lysis of the bacterium."
Van Helvoort pointed out that the conflicting research styles resulted in different theoretical interpretations, and that this ultimately had major repercussions as to what experiments and observations were considered valid and which ones were regarded as artefacts. Researchers like Felix d’Herelle and Max Delbruck denied the existence of lysogeny, considered today to be an integral part of the “viral” life cycle where the bacteriophage inserts its own genetic material into the host cell in order to reproduce. In fact, d'Herelle interpreted lysogeny as nothing more than "bacteriological contamination.” This is despite the fact that, according to Milton Taylor, d'Herelle had made the observation himself that certain strains of bacteria were ‘‘lysogenic,’’ i.e. they carry bacteriophage in a latent, “non-infectious” manner. This same observation was made by d'Herelle's rivals which led to further controversy over whether a bacteriophage organism actually exists. However, both d'Herelle and Delbruck regarded their exogenous theories as incompatible with an endogenous formation of the bacteriophage. Meanwhile, Bordet, Northrup, and Kruger rejected the exogenous and living nature of the bacteriophage as proposed by d'Herelle and Delbruck:
“Again we see not only that the conflicting research styles led to different theoretical interpretations, but that this had repercussions for the decision as to which experimental material, experiments, and observations were valid and which were artefacts. It is shown that Felix d'Herelle and Max Delbruck, who both defended the viewpoint that bacteriophage could be characterized as a bacterial virus, denied the existence of lysogeny. This parallel was recognized by Francois Jacob in 1954 and expressed as follows: "The confirmation of the theory of bacteriophage-virus led the American authors to reject the idea of lysogenic bacteria, using the same arguments that d'Herelle had used twenty-five years earlier." Both d'Herelle and Delbruck regarded the exogenous notion as incompatible with an endogenous formation of bacteriophage. In contrast, lysogeny was an argument for Bordet and for Northrop and Krueger to reject the exogenous interpretation (viz., an organized and complex, living entity) of bacteriophage.”
Van Helvoort credits the work of Andre Lwoff in helping to form the consensus on how, using the exogenous thought style, the evidence of lysogeny that was championed by the endogenous thinkers, could be incorporated into the exogenous “viral” model. In order to do so, Lwoff interpreted lysogeny as a “genetic take-over” of the bacterial enzymatic machinery. This process was characterized by the concept of “genetic parasitism.” By doing so, Lwoff was able to incorporate a central tenet of the endogenous theory into the exogenous one. This led to a redefinition of the “virus” category that rid itself of any entities that did not conform to the definition of “viruses” that were in accordance with Lwoff's “modern concept of the phage.” This allowed for bacteriophages to be classified as a “virus” while other agents like rickettsiae, Chlamydozoa, and PPLO organisms were placed outside of Lwoff's “virus” category. Thus, as Thomas Anderson stated in 1966, the members of the “Phage Group” were successful in their “plot to interest the 'real plant and animal virologists' in bacteriophages” by redefining phages as “bacterial viruses:”
“The work of Andre Lwoff on lysogenic bacteria in the early 1950s resulted in consensus on how, within the exogenous thought style, bacteriophagy could be reconciled with observations on lysogeny, a phenomenon that constituted a central observation within the endogenous thought style. Bacteriophagy, the multiplication of infectious phage particles, was interpreted as resulting from a genetic "take-over" of the bacterial enzymatic machinery and was characterized by the concept of "genetic parasitism." In a lysogenic bacterium the prophage (potential bacteriophage) was enclosed as a particle in the bacterium and
was thus, as a hereditary property, transmitted to lysogenic daughter
cells in the form of an endogenous function.
In the "modern concept of phage," formulated by Lwoff in 1957, two factors contributed to the forming of consensus on the question whether bacteriophage was a bacterial virus. The first was that lysogeny had now found "recognition" within the exogenous thought style. The second factor was that the knowledge that had been obtained about bacteriophage also led to a redefinition of the category of viruses: this category was "freed" from entities that did not conform to the definition of viruses according to the "modern concept of phage" (e.g., infectious entities that multiplied by binary fission or were inhibited by antibiotics). In this way, bacteriophage eventually obtained a place as a bacterial virus, while infectious disease-causing agents like rickettsiae, Chlamydozoa, and PPLO organisms were placed outside the virus category. That bacteriophage was not conceived in the 1940s as a bacterial virus by many researchers is clear from, for instance, a quotation from Thomas Anderson, who in 1966 wrote that many of the members of the "Phage Group" were involved in "a plot to interest the 'real plant and animal virologists' in bacteriophages by calling them 'bacterial viruses.'
Van Helvoort concluded by stating that, even as the “modern concept of the virus” was formulated by Lwoff, there were arguments against this definition. However, it is Lwoff's definition, based upon the bacteriophage, that is still utilized today in order to legitimize virology as a science:
"Apparently, bacteriophagy as genetic parasitism of the bacterial metabolic machinery by exogenous material was too narrow a point of view. At the very time when the "modern concept of virus" was being formulated, there were already arguments opposing the newly formed concept of virus. Nevertheless, the definition that was proposed by Lwoff is the definition that still functions today to legitimize the existence of virology as an independent scientific domain."
Part 2: Lwoff's Misconception
As can be seen, the bacteriophages identity as a “virus” was never a foregone conclusion. There were plenty of prominent voices who disagreed with this interpretation. Making matters worse, up until 1957, researchers still hadn't come to an agreement as to what exactly a “virus” even was. However, as stated previously, it was French microbiologist Andre Lwoff who took it upon himself at the 24th meeting of the Society for General Microbiology to define what a “virus” is based upon his work with bacteriophages.
From his lecture titled The Concept of Virus, Lwoff began by stating that to try and define the notion of “virus” was “a pons asinorum of microbiologists,” which means that it was a problem that acted as a test separating capable from incapable reasoners. Lwoff pointed out that he behaved on the “asses bridge,” a point that fools would be unable to cross, and that he considered that he was taking maximum risk by attempting to do so.
“The notion of virus, the subject of this lecture, is a pons asinorum of microbiologists, and I suspect that some of you have come to see how I behave on the asses’ bridge. It seems therefore only fair that I should take the maximum of risks. Thus I have decided not to avoid discussing the notion of organism and the notion of life, which are considered to be highly treacherous subjects.
Lwoff went on to state that most people see “viruses” as “infectious” disease-causing agents. However, he noted that trying to define a “virus” in front of virologists was where the real danger lies as there was a theoretical misunderstanding amongst the group. Some virologists were convinced that “viruses” were micro-organisms, others felt that they were molecules, while there were those who felt that both views were suspicious. Essentially, what a “virus” was remained within the eyes of the beholder.
The man in the street generally considers viruses as the dangerous agents of infectious diseases. If one has to lecture before an assembly of microbiologists, one becomes aware of the fact that the real danger lies with the virologists. When by reading their writings one tries to understand what a virus is, one reaches a sort of feeling of the possible existence of some slight theoretical misunderstandings amongst virologists in which it may be dangerous to be involved. Some virologists are convinced that viruses are micro-organisms. This view is expressed in Sir MacFarlane Burnet’s book Virus as Organism. Other virologists, like Wendell Stanley, feel that viruses should be considered as molecules. A third class is represented by F. C. Bawden and N. W. Pirie who write, ‘statements that viruses are small organisms should be regarded with as much suspicion as statements that they are simply molecules ’. If one wants to know who is right, one needs only to read Dr C. H. Andrewes’s article Viruses as Organisms: ‘It is my experience’, writes Dr Andrewes, ‘that those who have studied viruses from the widest point of view are more apt to consider them as organisms, whereas others who have looked on them from perhaps a more restricted point of view are more apt to toy with other hypotheses.’
Lwoff questioned what exactly a “virus” is if it was neither an organism or a molecule. He noted that what many think of as a “virus” is different from what a “virus” is. According to Lwoff, a “virus” is a “virus,” and it was his intent to defend this paradoxical, i.e. a seemingly absurd and self-contradictory, view. In order to define a “virus,” he would analyze critically the behaviors and properties of a “virus,” in which he utilized the bacteriophage as the model of what a “virus” is in order to do so.
If a virus be neither organism nor molecule, what is its nature? What is a virus? It is a malady of our time that words are often deprived of their meaning. Many people like to think that a virus is something different from a virus.
My ambition is to show that the word virus has a meaning, and I shall defend a paradoxical viewpoint, namely that viruses are viruses. As simplistic as this statement might appear to some of you, the task is not an easy one. It will be necessary to analyse critically the behaviour and properties of viruses at various phases of their life cycle, and to find out the nature of the difference between viruses and other infectious agents, between viruses and micro-organisms. Then, if we have landed somewhere, we have to decide where we have landed. A brief historical survey is here a necessity.”
Lwoff stated that it was due to Pasteur's work that “the agents of infectious diseases were identified as microbes” and that these agents, “whether bacteria, protozoa or fungi, were called viruses.” However, due to the work of Martinus Beijerinck with TMV, the concept of the invisible “filterable virus” was born. Even though his ideas of a “filterable virus” were opposed, these very invisible agents that were ultimately studied by virologists became what a “virus” was meant to be while the very visible microbes studied by other researchers were pushed aside. In other words, in order to be a “virus,” the defining characteristic was that it was an “infectious” agent that was too small to be seen, unlike the other visible microbes.
“Beijerinck’s views were so opposed to the current ideas that they did not receive any attention. This did not prevent the discovery of a number of infectious filterable agents which were considered to be small microbes and which were therefore called filterable viruses or ultraviruses. Then someone remarked that, because ultraviruses were small microbes, they should be called inframicrobes. For obvious reasons, none of the scientists studying filterable infectious agents was pretentious or modest enough to describe himself as an ultra-virologist or as an infra-microbiologist. And as everybody has to be labelled, these scientists were labelled as virologists. Quite naturally, as a result of the principle of the least effort, the ultraviruses, the filterable invisible infectious agents studied by virologists, became viruses. And as a counter-stroke the microbes, the visible infectious agents, were deprived of their ancestral right to be called viruses. This swing produced a confusional state from which microbiology has not yet recovered. One of our problems will be to find out whether or not the disease is curable.”
In order to define “viruses,” Lwoff turned to bacteriophages, the very entity that many considered not to be a “virus” but rather a normal process of the bacterium. He stated that, in order to be a “virus,” the ability to be introduced from the outside is a requirement as this “infectiousness” was a defining characteristic distinguishing “viruses” from cellular organelles. However, as shown by Bordet and others, the production of phages could be observed without any outside phages being added to a culture. There was no need for any “infection” at all. Thus, by this requirement, bacteriophages fail at being a “virus.”
“We have now to discuss a few features and properties of bacteriophage. As rightly emphasized by Luria, the ability to be introduced from outside is a requirement for the recognition of a virus as such. This is, by the way, one of the few theoretical points on which all virologists agree. If infectiousness is eliminated from the definition of viruses then we are no longer able to discriminate between viruses and the cellular organelles endowed with genetic continuity. Now we can perform a test and ask a few questions of a certain number of people.”
Next, Lwoff tried to distinguish between a prophage, considered the “non-infectious” genetic material of the phage, from the phage particle, considered the “infectious” unit. In other words, the phage was considered at times to be both “non-infectious” and “infectious” depending on the life cycle of the phage. This is how Lwoff attempted to reconcile the endogenous and exogenous thought styles discussed earlier. According to Lwoff, the prophage is not a “virus.” The phage particle is the “virus.” Something can only be considered a “virus” if it is capable of “infection.” In other words, both sides were right, and everyone gets to have their cake and eat it too.
“If one asks whether the prophage or the vegetative phage is a virus, the answer is no. If one asks whether the phage particle is a virus, the answer is yes. The reason is simple. Infectivity being considered as a characteristic trait of viruses, something is recognized as a virus only when it possesses this feature. And we deny the right of being called viruses to those phases of the life cycle which are devoid of this character. This is exactly as if one would deny the right of being a Plasmodium to those phases of the life cycle of the malarial parasite which are not infectious for the mammal. Allow me here a short digression.”
Lwoff considered that the definition of a phage as a “virus” should be built from the sum of its life cycle, something that, ironically, could never be observed and only inferred and interpreted. He admitted that many of the cycles of the phage are “non-infectious,” and that the phage particle never multiplies by itself but is produced within the bacterium. Thus, Lwoff stated that the phage (i.e. “virus”) should not be defined by the “infectious” particle. The prophage and vegetative stages (endogenous) should be incorporated with the “infectious particle” (exogenous) when defining it. He felt that the notion of the bacteriophage should not be transcended by the notions of “infection” and of disease, aspects that he stated previously were requirements of a “virus.”
“It is evident that a bacteriophage is neither this nor that but is necessarily the sum of the various phases of its life cycle. Any definition of a bacteriophage should be an integration. When one considers the life cycle, one sees first that the only structure which is common to all the three phases is the genetic material. One sees also that the infectious phage particle never multiplies as such, but is produced by the organization of phage material. An infectious particle is never the direct descendant of another infectious particle. Ultimately, as already seen, some of the phases of the cycle are not infectious.
A definition of the phage should therefore not be centred on the infectious particle. The following definition is proposed: a bacteriophage is a strict parasite of bacteria possessing an infectious phase and which is multiplied in the form of its genetic material and which is sometimes pathogenic. According to this definition, the prophage and the vegetative phage are parts of the ‘bacteriophage’ as well as the infectious particle which is thus deprived of its supremacy.
The notion of bacteriophage should not be transcended by the notions of infection and of disease, which are only particular aspects of the bacteriophage considered as a whole.”
Lwoff stated that he used the bacteriophage “as a model of virus.” The “virus” was different from other microbes such as bacteria, protozoa, and fungi primarily due to their supposed size being at least one dimension lower than 200 mμ. Lwoff decided to compare the size of a bacteriophage with other microbes in order to make the case that a bacteriophage was, indeed, a “virus” based upon this defining characteristic.
“We speak of viruses as different from bacteria, protozoa, fungi and algae. This implies the existence of a category of infectious agents, viruses, which are different from the other infectious agents. As we aim to be scientists, we have to state clearly the nature of the difference.
Viruses are often opposed to bacteria because of their size. A virus, according to some virologists, should have at least one dimension lower than 200 mμ. If dimensions have any meaning it is not by the astrological virtue of a number, but because of a correlation between size and some essential properties which are responsible for fundamental differences.
In order to find out the essence of this difference, let us examine and compare the bacteriophage considered as a model of virus on the one hand, and on the other hand, a typical micro-organism such as protozoon, a yeast or a bacterium.”
Lwoff then defined what a “virus” would be, which is an “infectious” particle that may be “potentially pathogenic,” containing only one type of nucleic acid and can be reproduced from its genetic material.
“If one wants to put emphasis on the infectious particles the following definition may be proposed: viruses are infectious, potentially pathogenic, nucleoproteinic entities possessing only one type of nucleic acid, which are reproduced from their genetic material, are unable to grow and to undergo binary fission, and are devoid of a Lipmann system.”
Interestingly, Lwoff brought up the endogenous theory when discussing the origin of “viruses.” He claimed that those who support the exogenous theory view those who are in support of the endogenous theory as heretics. However, Lwoff said that the endogenous theory is not absurd and that it needed to be discussed scientifically. He seemed to imply that what is considered true today may not be true tomorrow. Lwoff admitted that the “virus” is only a concept, and that the ideas surrounding it may differ because of this. What he did was coalesce the various (often contradictory) elements and data together into a whole in order to present the idea and concept of a “virus.”
“According to the dogma, infectious diseases are caused by specific micro-organisms. Viral diseases being infectious, it was concluded that viruses were specific micro-organisms. And when the idea was proposed that viruses were perhaps not microbes but might have originated from some pathological constituents of their host cell, then the theory of spontaneous generation seemed to revive from its ashes. The supporters of the endogeneous theory were accused of heresy and a smell of sulphur was floating in the air. The inquisitors of faith have tried, and are still trying, to ridicule the endogenous theory by brandishing the threadbare scarecrow of heterogenesis. The endogenous theory of the origin of viruses is a theory. It may be wrong, but it is not absurd. If discussed at all, it should be discussed scientifically.
Those who claim to possess the truth should remember that heterogenesis was once ‘the truth’. And the spectre of heterogenesis should be allowed to rest in the famed purple sheet where scientists shroud their dead gods.”
“And it is essential to remember that a concept is an idea of a class of objects. The virus is a concept. Our ideas concerning the origin of viruses may differ, and also our ideas of the place we assign to viruses among other entities. The very use of the term virus, however, implies the acceptance of viruses as a specific class of entities.”
“So, what have I done? The data pertaining to viruses have been considered in themselves and then integrated, that is to say, united in order to form a whole. To cement the stones a mental element was introduced. The operation which has been performed is what Whewell called a colligation, a colligation being defined by the Master of Trinity as ‘an operation by which facts are united under one and the same idea The word was new at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the idea was an old one. It corresponds to the Aristotelian transition from particular to general, the transition to a superior degree of generality. It is closely related to Bacon’s Interpretatio naturae, and also to induction which is the transition from facts to laws. I have not dealt with laws, but I have attempted to visualize the virus as a whole, to introduce a general idea, the notion or concept of virus. In doing so, I have tried to be as rationalistic and logical as possible.”
In his concluding remarks, Lwoff discussed the “virus” as a work of art. Some scientists had a very abstract vision of what a “virus” is while others had a very romanticized vision. He considered himself to have cut up all of the individual slices in order to leave the pieces of the “virus” bare for all to see. However, he reminded people that the “virus” was just a concept, i.e. an abstract thought or idea conceived of in the mind, and that it was just like any other concept. In summing up his lengthy lecture, Lwoff (in)famously stated that “viruses should be considered as viruses because viruses are viruses.”
“Some scientists visualize the virus as an ill-defined shape emerging bashfully out of a dense and golden cloud. This is a beautiful and romantic vision. Virology should, however, not be too Turnerian. Nor should it be an abstract art. The portrait of a virus should not produce an aesthetic emotion by means of an organic disturbance. The virus is amenable to intellectual analysis. I have cut its life cycle into slices and analysed each slice as lucidly as I could. The significance and value of each character has been dissected with a sort of sadism. This, I realize, is mere intellectual butchery, the type of job which it is advisable to leave to somebody else.
As a result, the virus has been unveiled. Now, it stands before you, naked. Do not turn your eyes away, it is only a concept. And the concept of virus, just as any other concept, the concept of a lecture, the concept of woman, is not as difficult to handle as the real object.”
“It is certainly pleasant to be a mammal. Yet, I am conscious of having produced such an excessive number of mammalian digressions that you might have had the impression that the lecture was dealing with the concept of mammal rather than with the concept of virus. Also, I have made use of the American word patternization. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. I confess my sins and hope they will be remitted. I have behaved improperly and as a punishment, the conclusion of this lecture will be prosy, coarse and vulgar: viruses should be considered as viruses because viruses are viruses.”
Andre Lwoff based his “virus” model on bacteriophages, particles that, by all accounts, can be properly purified (freed of contaminants, pollutants, foreign materials, etc.) and isolated (separated from everything else) in order to be studied and fully characterized. This is in stark contrast to the animal and human “viruses” that have never been properly purified and isolated directly from the fluids in order to be studied and characterized. In other words, Lwoff used real entities in order to create a model that could be correlated to the imaginary ones for virologists to utilize in their studies. As the exogenous thinkers did before him, Lwoff misinterpreted the bacteriophage evidence in order to claim that bacteriophages existed as independent entities that invaded bacteria from outside in order to “infect” and replicate. He failed to see that the bacteriophage is never found outside directly in nature and only forms when the environmental conditions stress inbred bacteria in artificial lab-created culture conditions. He failed to understand that the bacteriophage is not separate from the bacteria that it results from. The bacteriophage is a form that is called upon by a bacterium when the conditions require the phage for survival.
Part 3: The Pleomorphic Phage
That bacteria are pleomorphic entities, i.e. having the ability to assume different forms, is an established fact. This process was observed by many researchers such as Antoine Bechamp, Günther Enderlein, Royal Raymond Rife, Gaston Naessens, Albert Calmette, and many others who utilize dark field microscopes. Here, you can watch Gaston Naessens explain this process with video taken from his Somatoscope:
Unfortunately, pleomorphism is primarily ignored by many microbiologists due to the fact that Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and others did not accept the pleomorphic nature of bacteria as true, despite direct observations establishing this process as a fact. Thus, the modern microbiologist views bacteria from a monomorphic (single form), rather than a pleomorphic (multiple form), standpoint. While pleomorphism has been pushed aside to support monomorphism, according to the Britannica, pleomorphism is particularly prevalent in “certain” bacteria which makes it challenging to identify and study them:
pleomorphism, the existence of irregular and variant forms in the same species or strain of microorganisms, a condition analogous to polymorphism in higher organisms. Pleomorphism is particularly prevalent in certain groups of bacteria and in yeasts, rickettsias, and mycoplasmas and greatly complicates the task of identifying and studying them.
According to a 1997 paper Extreme Pleomorphism and the Bacterial Life Cycle: A Forgotten Controversy by Milton Wainwright, there was heated debate over the pleomorphic nature of bacteria during the course of the first 40 plus years of the 20th century, with textbooks accepting extreme pleomorphism even well into the late 60s. The debate was over whether or not bacteria went through complex life cycles and were able to change from single-cells, spores, filaments, and ultra-filterable forms. While the monomorphists, backed by Pasteur, Koch, and various special interests, ultimately won, there are still reports of pleomorphism in the literature today:
“The first 40 years of this century witnessed bacteriologists involved in a debate which was fought with an intensity not seen since the arguments over spontaneous generation conducted during the last quarter of the 19th century. This now long-forgotten controversy concerned the question of whether or not bacteria exhibit extreme pleomorphism and go through complex life cycles. The term pleomorphism used to refer to the supposed ability of bacteria to change shape dramatically, or to exist in a number of extreme morphological forms. Thus it was believed that bacteria could change from a single coccoid to complex filamentous forms and vice versa. In addition, rather than reproducing by single division, bacteria were thought to undergo complex life cycles involving single cells, spore, filaments, and ultra-filterable forms.
The debate split microbiologists into two opposing schools: the monomorphists and the pleomorphists. The monomorphists finally triumphed, but as we shall see, even today reports continue to appear apparently showing that bacteria exhibit extreme morphological variations and undergo complex life cycles.”
Bacteriophages being a pleomorphic form that the stressed bacteria take on due to the toxic cultured environment was supported by the work of Dr. Stefan Lanka. In his brilliant piece Dismantling the Virus Theory, Dr. Lanka stated that it was discovered that when bacteria begin to die, they create tiny spore forms in an act of self-preservation. While it was initially thought that these spores were pathogenic poisons, this idea was immediately refuted when it was observed that the spores changed back into their bacterial forms when the vital environmental conditions were restored. When scientists observed that highly inbred bacteria began to die and turn into even smaller structures than the spores, this became misinterpreted as bacterial “viruses.” Samples from these cultures were observed under electron microscopy and hundreds of different “phage” forms were observed, which were ultimately used as the model particles for human and animal “viruses.” However, it was shown that only highly inbred bacteria within test tubes could turn into phages themselves by contact with phages as these inbred bacteria die so quickly that they are unable to produce the spore form. This process never happened with natural bacteria or bacteria isolated from their natural environment. In other words, the phage was an artificial construct using unnatural conditions in an unnatural environment. These “phages” were used as models for the invisible human and animal “viruses” by Lwoff and others who failed to realize that phages help bacteria to live after they eventually emerge from these structures.
“Then it was discovered that, when they slowly begin to die, bacteria create tiny, apparently lifeless forms of survival, the so-called spores. It was then suspected that these spores were toxic and that they were the so-called pathogenic poisons. This was then refuted, since the spores are rapidly developing into bacteria when their vital resources are being restored. When scientists in the laboratory observed that the weak, highly inbred bacteria perished very quickly while turning into much smaller structures than the spores, it was first believed that the bacteria were being killed by the alleged pathogenic poisons, called viruses, and that the viruses were thereby replicating.
Due to the belief that these-at the time of their discovery still invisible-structures were killing the bacteria, they were called phages/bacteriophages, “eaters of bacteria”. Only later it was determined that merely highly inbred and therefore almost non-viable bacteria can be made to turn into phages, or bacteria which are being destroyed so fast that they do not have time to form spores.
The introduction of the electron microscopy led to the discovery of the structures resulting from the transformation of bacteria when these were suddenly dying or when the metabolism of the highly inbred germs was overwhelmed by processes triggered by the adding of “phages”. It was also discovered that there are hundreds of types of different-looking “phages”. The discovery of phages, the so-called bacterial “viruses”, reinforced the wrong assumption and the belief that there were human and animal viruses that looked the same and had the same structure. This is not and cannot be the case, for several different reasons.
After introducing chemical examination techniques in biology, it was discovered that there are thousands of types of phages and that phages of one type always have the same structure. They consist of a particular molecule, made of nucleic acid, which is covered in a shell of proteins of a given number and composition. It was only later discovered that merely the bacteria which had been highly inbred in the test tube could turn into phages themselves, by contact with phages, but this never applied to natural bacteria or bacteria which had just been isolated from their natural environment. In this process, it was discovered that these “bacterial viruses” actually serve to provide other bacteria with important molecules and proteins, and that the bacteria themselves emerged from such structures.
Before it could be established that the “bacterial viruses” cannot kill natural bacteria, but they are instead helping them to live and that bacteria themselves emerge from such structures, these “phages” were already used as models for the alleged human and animal viruses. It was assumed that the human and animal viruses looked like the “phages”, were allegedly killing cells and thereby causing diseases, while at the same time producing new disease poisons and in this way transmitting the diseases. To date, many new or apparently new diseases have been attributed to viruses if their origin is unknown or not acknowledged. This reflex found an apparent confirmation in the discovery of the “bacterial viruses”.
In his excellent essay The Virus Misconception Part 1, Dr. Lanka provided even more detail on the history of the bacteriophage research. He explained that the model for the concept of the human, animal, and plant “viruses” began to form in 1953 with the use of the bacteriophage. Unlike their “viral” counterparts, phages can be photographed, isolated as whole particles and have all of their components biochemically determined and characterized. This process has never been applied to human, animal, and plant “viruses” as these entities do not exist. Thus, a real entity in phages were misinterpreted and mis-conceptualized into a “virus” of bacteria in order to claim that similar “viruses” exist in humans, animals, and plants when they, in fact, do not exist at all.
Dr. Lanka reiterated that the creation of phages only occurs in highly inbred bacterial cultures and do not occur naturally in pure bacteria extracted from an organism or the environment. Natural bacteria, i.e. not lab-grown, will always divert into the spore form, and it can maintain this form eternally until the environmental conditions are right for a change back into the bacterial form. Dr. Lanka pointed out that this very process of bacteria appearing from invisible structures, developing into more complex forms, and then reverting back again was observed and described by Günther Enderlein more than a century ago. Dr. Lanka also explained that, when he was a young student, he was the first to isolate a phage from sea algae, which he misinterpreted as a “harmless virus” at the time:
The so-called bacteria-eaters
The source for the idea of a genetic virus in humans, animals and plants, which started to develop from 1953 onwards, were the so-called bacteria-eaters, called (bacterio)phages, which had drawn the attention of scientists since 1915. From 1938 on, when commercially available electron microscopes were applied in research, these phages could be photographed, isolated as whole particles and all their components could be biochemically determined and characterised. This is real, and cannot be contested. To isolate them, i.e. concentrate the particles and separate them from all other components (=isolation), to photograph them immediately in the isolated state and to biochemically characterise them all in one go – this, however, has never happened with the alleged viruses of humans, animals and plants because these do not exist.
The scientists researching bacteria and phages, who worked with actual existing structures, provided a model as to what human, animal and plant viruses could look like. However, the “phage experts” have overlooked by their misinterpretation of phages as bacteria eaters that the phenomenon of the formation of these particles is caused by the extreme inbreeding of bacteria. This effect, i.e. the formation and release of phages (bacteria eaters, aka bacteria viruses), doesn’t happen amongst pure bacteria, freshly extracted from an organism or the environment. When their nutrients are withdrawn slowly or their living conditions become impossible, normal bacteria – that is: bacteria which are not grown in the lab – create the known survival forms, the spores, which can survive for a long time or even “eternally”. From spores, new bacteria appear as soon as the living conditions improve. However, isolated bacteria, when grown in the lab, lose all characteristics and abilities. Many of them do not perish automatically through this in-breeding, but rather turn suddenly and completely into small particles, which in the “good versus evil” theory perspective have been misinterpreted as bacteria-eaters. In reality, bacteria originate from these exact “phages” and they turn back again into these life forms when the living conditions are no longer available. Günther Enderlein (1872–1968) described exactly these processes more than a century ago: how bacteria appear from invisible structures, their development into more complex forms and back again. That is why Enderlein did not agree with the cell theory, according to which life appears from cells and is organised at cellular level. As a young student, I myself isolated such a “phage” structure from a sea algae. and believed at that time to have discovered the first harmless virus, the first stable “virus host system”.
In a final excerpt from Dr. Lanka taken from The Virus Misconception Part 3, he explained that the transformation of the highly inbred bacteria into phages is not an act of destruction, but a metamorphosis in the same vein as natural bacteria transitioning into the spore form. Phages end up offering their nucleic acid to other organisms, which is in an effort to help the organism live rather than to harm or kill. Phages are regarded as “viruses” even though they are unable to damage or kill naturally occurring or freshly isolated bacteria. Dr. Lanka stressed that it is very likely that, if the right environment is provided, the bacteria will develop once again from phages as they do from spores. Everything stated by Dr. Lanka lines up with Philip Hadley's theory from earlier which stated that the bacteriophage “stimulates the microscopically visible bacteria of the culture to pass into a submicroscopic filtrable stage.” Hadley also noted that this process was reversible in that the bacteria of the original species could be recovered from filtrates of the lysed cultures.
The ability to extract nucleic acid of the same length and composition from bacteriophages became the model for the modern concept of a “virus” as envisioned by Lwoff. It became the “gene-virus theory,” which asserts that a “virus” is a piece of enveloped or naked genetic material of a certain length and composition. In line with this, the very first whole “viral” genomes ever sequenced were of bacteriophages, with the first being bacteriophage MS2 in 1976, followed by the genome of bacteriophage ϕX174 in 1977, and bacteriophage λ in 1982. Thus, the very model for what a “viral” genome looks like stems from these misinterpreted “viruses.” This has been propagated down the line as “viral” sequences when they are, in fact, endogenous to bacteria. While nucleic acids are said to be able to be obtained from properly purified, isolated, and characterized phages, this is never the case with human and animal “viruses.” According to Dr. Lanka, no nucleic acid is ever taken from the structures that are visualized under the electron microscope that are passed off as “viruses.”
“The model for the new virology was and is from the bacteriologist John Franklin Enders - the discovery of tiny structures called phages that are only visible using the electron microscope, into which highly inbred, i.e. incestuous, bacteria transform when their metabolism breaks down. This transformation is not an act of destruction, but a metamorphosis, similar to when bacteria gradually lose their conditions for living and form their permanent forms, the spores. These are also tiny, much smaller than bacteria. Spores can change back into bacteria when the living conditions are optimised again. Phages, on the other hand, offer their nucleic acid to other organisms, which they thus help to live and do NOT kill or harm. Phages are nevertheless regarded as the viruses of bacteria, although phages are never able to damage or kill naturally occurring bacteria or freshly isolated bacteria. It is very likely that bacteria will develop again from phages if the environment for this is provided. I have isolated and studied a phage-like structure from the sea, one that algae produce especially when their living conditions are no longer optimal. Phages formed during the transformation of a specific, highly inbred, i.e. an incestuous bacterial species, always have the same structure, the same size, the same composition and always an equally long and equally assembled nucleic acid. The nucleic acid, which always has the same length and composition, became the model for the new virus idea, the gene-virus theory, according to which a virus is a piece of enveloped or naked genetic material of a certain length and composition.
Phages are isolated quite easily from which their nucleic acid is extracted, which always has the same composition. In the case of “genetic viruses” this is never the case: no nucleic acid is ever taken from the few structures that can be visualised under the electron microscope and are passed off as viruses. The nucleic acid is explicitly always extracted from the fluids in which the dying tissues were located. Crucially, a whole nucleic acid is never found that has the length and composition of those schematic drawings and descriptions of nucleic acids that virologists pass off as the genetic strand or genome of their respective viruses.”
The “Virus” Model = Petri Dish Nonsense
For a large portion of the history of virology, the “virus” remained nothing more than an idea that was created in order to explain disease. It was a concept that existed within the imaginations of the researchers as they had nothing physical to study. The fictional entities that researchers claimed to be working with were entirely invisible, could not be cultivated, and were not retained by bacteria-proof filters. “Viruses” were defined by their absence. Thus, it is not surprising that many controversies erupted over what exactly a “virus” was as different researchers had conflicting research styles which resulted in different experiments, observations, and theoretical interpretations. The “virus” was simply whatever it needed to be in the eyes of the beholder.
The “discovery” of the bacteriophage, which itself began as an invisible entity, became a controversial topic as well amongst the early researchers. The bacteriophage was co-discovered at different times by two different researchers in Frederick Twort and Felix d'Herelle. Both men had their own radically different interpretations of the observed phenomenon that they had created artificially in Petri dishes in their labs. For Twort, he had a natural enzyme produced by the bacterium. For d'Herelle, he had found an invisible “virus” that preyed upon bacteria. This led to heated debates about the true nature of the bateriophagy phenomenon with various researchers taking sides as to whether bacteriophages should be considered “viruses” or rather a hereditary process of the bacterium itself. Evidence was amassed by both sides that strengthened their own argument while contradicting the other. However, this debate could not be settled due to the inability to define what exactly a “virus” was.
This argument was “rectified” in 1957 when French microbiologist Andre Lwoff decided to combine both the endogenous (phage comes from within the baterium) and endogenous (phage is an “infectious virus” outside of the bacterium) into a single model for what a bacteriophage, and ultimately a “virus,” is supposed to be. He combined contradictory data and elements into a carefully manufactured and cohesive narrative in order to provide a unified and defined concept for the “virus.” By utilizing the bacteriophage, Lwoff was able to base the model of the fictional human and animal “viruses” off of a real entity that had been misinterpreted as being pathogenic. Coupling bacteriophages with human and animal “viruses” gave legitimacy to both. While there were still arguments against his definition, it still stands today as the constructed “consensus” of the modern-day definition of a “virus.”
However, as pointed out by Philip Hadley's theory and backed up by Dr. Stefan Lanka's research, the bacteriophage is nothing more than a self-produced substance or form that stimulates the microscopically visible bacteria of the culture to pass into a submicroscopic filtrable stage. According to Dr. Lanka, this is entirely due to the environmental conditions of the bacteria as well as whether the bacteria is highly inbred in a lab or not. This phage form is a survival mechanism of the pleomorphic bacteria that is reversible once the vital conditions are returned. Thus, the bacteriophage as a pathogenic “virus” is a complete misinterpretation of the evidence. It is simply a stage in the life cycle of the bacterium. Regardless, the bacteriophage has been used to create a fraudulent model for what a “virus” is supposed to be based upon erroneous interpretations. The bacteriophage as a “virus” is a misconception by Lwoff and the rest of the exogenous thinkers. The entire “virus” model has been superglued together from contradictory evidence over a nonpathogenic pleomorphic form of bacteria. It is abundantly clear that we need to place this fraudulent model in the trash can where it belongs.provided an update on the clown court case of false/fake/fraudulent “criminal charges” that were brought against her. provided a very interesting article examining claims that hospitals were stockpiling bodies prior to “Covid.” provided a piece about Dr. Kelly Brogan and her work advocating terrain theory and healing without pharmaceuticals.