Geek Of The Week: Martinus Beijerinck

Geek Of The Week: Martinus Beijerinck

Martinus Beijerinck was a Dutch microbiologist and botanist. He is often considered one of the founders of virology and environmental microbiology. In spite of his numerous pioneering and seminal contributions to science in general, he was never awarded the Nobel Prize.

n 1898, he published results on the filtration experiments demonstrating that tobacco mosaic disease is caused by an infectious agent smaller than a bacterium. His results were in accordance with the similar observation made by Dmitri Ivanovsky in 1892. Like Ivanovsky before him Beijerinck could not culture the filterable infectious agent; however, he concluded that the agent can replicate and multiply in living plants. He named the new pathogen virus to indicate its non-bacterial nature. Beijerinck asserted that the virus was somewhat liquid in nature, calling it “contagium vivum fluidum” (contagious living fluid). It was not until the first crystals of the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) obtained by Wendell Stanley in 1935, the first electron micrographs of TMV produced in 1939 and the first X-ray crystallographic analysis of TMV performed in 1941 proved that the virus was particulate.

Beijerinck also discovered nitrogen fixation, the process by which diatomic nitrogen gas is converted to ammonium ions and becomes available to plants. Bacteria perform nitrogen fixation, dwelling inside root nodules of certain plants (legumes). In addition to having discovered a biochemical reaction vital to soil fertility and agriculture, Beijerinck revealed this archetypical example of symbiosis between plants and bacteria. Given the panic surrounding Coronavirus, I think this is a very timely Geek of the Week.

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avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.