History of Early Bacteriophage Research and Emergence of Key Concepts in Virology

Biochemistry (Mosc). 2020 Sep;85(9):1093-1010. doi: 10.1134/S0006297920090096.


The viruses of bacteria - bacteriophages - were discovered 20 years after the discovery of viruses. However, this was mainly the bacteriophage research that, after the first 40 years, yielded the modern concept of the virus and to large extent formed the grounds of the emerging molecular genetics and molecular biology. Many specific aspects of the bacteriophage research history have been addressed in the existing publications. The integral outline of the events that led to the formation of the key concepts of modern virology is presented in this review. This includes the opposition of F. d'Herelle and J. Bordet viewpoints over the nature of the bacteriophage, the history of lysogeny discovery and of determination of the mechanisms of underlying this phenomenon, the work of the Phage group led by M. Delbruck in USA, the development of the genetic analysis of bacteriophages and other research that eventually led to emergence of the concept of the virus (bacteriophage) as a transmissive genetic program. The review also covers a brief history of early applications of the bacteriophages such as phage therapy and phage typing.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents*
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy*
  • Bacterial Infections / virology
  • Bacteriophages / physiology*
  • Biomedical Research / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Lysogeny
  • Molecular Biology / history*
  • Phage Therapy / methods*
  • Virology / history*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents