Oswald Theodore Avery studied strains of pneumococcus of the genus Streptococcus in the US in the first half of the twentieth century. This bacterium causes pneumonia, a common cause of death at the turn of the twentieth century. In a 1944 paper, Avery demonstrated with colleagues Colin Munro MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty that deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, instead of protein, formed the material of heritable transformation in bacteria. Avery helped untangle some of the relationships between genes and developmental processes.
In 2007, Philippe Horvath and his colleagues explained how bacteria protect themselves against viruses at Danisco, a Danish food company, in Dangé-Saint-Romain, France. Horvath and his team worked to improve the lifespan of bacteria cultures for manufacturing yogurt and ice cream. Specifically, they focused on bacteria’s resistance to bacteriophages, or viruses that infect bacteria. Horvath and his colleagues found that the bacteria used to culture yogurt, Streptococcus thermophilus, has an adaptive immune system that can target specific viruses that have previously infected the bacteria. The immune system is called the CRISPR/cas system, or the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR associated protein system. Horvath and his colleagues explained how bacteria use CRISPR/cas as an immune system to target viruses and protect themselves from infection. The discovery informed the development of CRISPR/cas as a gene editing tool to modify bacterial, animal, and human genomes.
In 2011, United Kingdom pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline released Cervarix, a vaccination series protecting girls and women from two strains of Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, can present in men and women without symptoms, or may cause symptoms such as genital warts. There is a link between HPV and cervical, vaginal, anal, head, neck, and face cancers, and Cervarix can reduce genital cancers in girls and women, particularly cervical cancer. Gardasil, a similar vaccination against HPV, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, or FDA and available in the US in June 2006 was on the market five years prior to Cervarix’s approval in October 2009. In 2014, because of the heightened cost and lesser coverage, the US market discontinued Cervarix, but as of 2019, it remains popular in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. Cervarix is the first HPV vaccine administered in China.
Ian Hector Frazer studied the human immune system and vaccines in Brisbane, Australia, and helped invent and patent the scientific process and technology behind what later became the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US, or CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and can lead to genital warts, as well as cervical, head, mouth, and neck cancers. Frazer and virologist Jian Zhou conducted research in the 1990s to assess why women with HPV had higher rates of precancerous and cancerous cervical cells. Frazer’s research led the pharmaceutical company Merck to produce the Gardasil vaccination series, and GlaxoSmithKline to produce the Cervarix vaccination. Frazer’s research contributed to the development of HPV vaccinations that have been successful in reducing up to seventy percent of cervical cancer cases in women.