By Melvin Berger
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He examined it carefully in the laboratory. What he found was the pure tobacco virus. The pure substance proved to be a hundred times stronger than the juice from the diseased leaves. He had accomplished the task he had set for himself—to get the tobacco virus out of the diseased leaves. After years of cutting and pressing, and dozens of chemical steps, Stanley had obtained less than a spoonful of a fine, white powder. Stanley took the position that the powder was a chemical substance without life.
Although Ivanowski performed the experiments a few years earlier, Beijerinck was the first to recognize how important the discovery was. Until this time, it was believed that the cell was the base of all life. Beijerinck suggested that this substance, although alive, had no cells. He knew that anything as large as a cell would have been caught in his filter. A substance, he said, could be alive and have no cell. " But exactly what is a virus? Is it a chemical fluid that has life? Or is it a living thing without a cell?
As long as it is on a living material, it grows. The difficult question still remained—what is a 33 Advances of Modern Science virus? Is it living or chemical? Men of science had always thought life and not-life to be as different as black and white. With the discovery of the virus, they became aware of a gray area that was neither black nor white. Until the 1930"s, it was accepted that there was also a great difference in size between the largest chemical molecules and the smallest living things.