As I was setting up a plaque assay yesterday, a fellow lab member informed me that Dr. Renato Dulbecco, the man who first modified the procedure for use with animal viruses, died on Sunday at the age of 97. Plaque assays are still used today to measure the amount of many viruses present in cell culture, and allowed for major advances in virology including the development of the live polio vaccine. Dr. Dulbecco also invented the recipe for DMEM culture media that many of us still grow our cells in today.
Dulbecco’s greatest contribution to science and virology was his Nobel Prize winning discovery that viruses can cause cancer. The most popularized example of an oncogenic virus is the link between cervical cancer and human papillomaviruses, an observation that has led to the production of the sometimes controversial Gardasil vaccine. Upon infection, these viruses promote immortality and unchecked replication of the host cell leading to tumor formation in a process called “transformation”.
For more on Dulbecco’s life and discoveries, check out this NY Times piece.