COVID 19: June Almeida, a scientific pioneer, who discovered Coronavirus in 1965; Read all about her

Read about June Almeida, a virologist, who dropped out of school at the age of 16, went on to discover the first human Coronavirus in 1965.
Read about June Almeida, a virologist, who discovered the first human Coronavirus in 1965Read about June Almeida, a virologist, who discovered the first human Coronavirus in 1965
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June Almeida, who dropped out of school at the age of 16, was all of 34 when she claimed to have spotted a new kind of virus, and back then, little did anyone know that her findings in 1964 would wreck havoc in 2020. That’s right! At the time when June Almeida claimed to have spotted a new kind of virus, her findings were rejected and as per reports, it so happened that the images captured by June Almeida were that of a virus surrounded by what appeared to be a halo or a crown, but sadly, back then, her images were dismissed as “just bad pictures of influenza virus particles”. But in retrospect, little did they know that the virus then captured by June would wreak havoc on the world over 50 years down the line, in the year 2020. During the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, Chinese scientists credited June’s work and the techniques she developed.

Talking about June Almeida, she is a Scottish virologist, who was born on 5 October 1930 in Glasgow, and Almeida had to leave school at the age of 16 because she could not afford higher education. After marrying a Venezuelan artist, she moved to Canada, and that is where she began to work as an electron microscopy technician. Despite the fact that Almeida dropped out of the school at the age of 16, she went on to co-author scientific publications, wherein she talked about the structure of viruses that had not been visualised before. Later, when Almeida moved to UK from Canada, she collaborated with DAJ Tyrrell, director of UK’s erstwhile Common Cold Research Centre, and was credited with developing a new technique of organ cultures, and in an interview, medical writer George Winter described how Tyrrell’s research and Almeida’s imaging skills helped discover the Coronavirus. Yes, Almeida is credited with discovering the first human Coronavirus — a family whose members include the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and the virus who is at the centre of the current Covid-19 pandemic. We can safely say that June’s discovery back in 1964 firmly holds ground today because given the intensity with which the Covid-19 is spreading across the globe, the discovery made by Almeida, is back in the limelight. In the 1960s, Tyrrell had been studying nasal washings from volunteers, and found that they were unable to grow some of the common cold-associated viruses in the lab, and Tyrrell managed to grow the virus in organ cultures and sent samples to Almeida, asking if these could be seen through the electron microscopes. Upon receiving the samples, not only did Almeida manage to produce images of these viruses, she also identified what became known as the first human Coronavirus.

Later, Tyrrell and Almeida, along with Tony Waterson named it Coronavirus. Why? Because the virus was round and had crown-like projections surrounding it. Initially, Almeida’s findings were rejected, however, later, the British Medical Journal described her discoveries in 1965 in their journal and also, the first photographs of what Almeida had seen were published in the Journal of General Virology. In 1985, Almeida retired to the English seaside town of Bexhill, where she became a successful yoga instructor. Almeida died of a heart attack in 2007, at the age of 77. Before her retirement, Almeida in 1984, wrote about the identification of Coronaviruses: “Coronaviruses in particular are difficult as some cell components for example, mitochondria, also have surface projections. However, if technically good specimens are produced this should not be a serious problem as each type of projection is distinctive, and form can be used to distinguish viral from cellular components.”

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