It takes as a surprise that the Coronavirus turned out to be discovered about 60 years ago. That time, a female virologist named June Almeida found a new kind of virus which was surrounded by a crown or a halo but her discovery was later allegedly “just bad pictures of influenza virus particles”.

June Almeida - the first woman who discovered the Coronavirus.

In 1964, June Almeida observed samples via an electron microscope and suddenly discovered the first human Coronavirus. She, as well as her colleagues, may have never thought that the virus could affect the world as much as it is now. Her achievement seems to become more noteworthy because the 34-year-old scientist didn’t obtain formal qualifications.

Born June Hart, Almeida lived with her family in an apartment block in Glasgow, Scotland. Her father worked as a bus driver. In spite of being a good student, she had no choice but to leave school because higher education was too expensive. Almeida later became a technician for a laboratory at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary where her duties were analyzing tissue samples via a microscope.

After her marriage to a Venezuelan artist, Almeida and her husband moved to Canada and this time, she started working with an electron microscope at the Ontario Cancer Institute, Toronto. She also developed new techniques and published some researches describing the structures of many kinds of viruses that had never been observed before.

She observed the virus via an electron microscope.

Despite its simplicity, her microscopy technique took an important role in the development and revolution of microbiology. Accordingly, virus preparations were combined with many antibodies from humans or animals. These antibodies were responsible for aggregating the viruses, and as such, scientists could observe them under the microscope. Almeida continued to identify a series of viruses including measles virus (rubella) - a disease that leads to many complications during pregnancy. Although scientists had researched about the rubella many decades before, the Scottish scientist was still the first one to discover its virus.

Until 1964, Almeida cooperated with Dr. David Tyrrell - a clinical virologist at the Common Cold Unit in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK. That time, his team was collecting samples of flu-like viruses which they called “B814”. However, it was too difficult to cultivate the viruses in the lab. The traditional methods became helpless and thus, the researchers started to think that B814 might be a new kind of virus.

Tyrrell decided to send the sample to Almeida with the hope that her microscopy technique could help recognize the virus. Although she didn’t have enough equipment, what she discovered was actually beyond Tyrrell’s expectation. She didn’t only find and take photos of the new virus, but she also revealed that she had seen two similar viruses in the previous researches: the first while she observed bronchitis in chickens, and the next virus while analyzing hepatitis liver inflammation in mice. She made a report on two viruses but her research was obviously underestimated. As mentioned above, the referees considered her photos as “just bad pictures of influenza virus particles”. This time, with Tyrrell’s sample, Almeida believed that they truly discovered a new kind of virus.

Coronavirus or COVID-19.

While discussing the findings, Almeida, Tyrrell, and her supervisor didn’t know what name the new virus should be. Based on its crown structure, they finally decided to call it the Coronavirus.

The talented female virologist retired in 1985. Before she passed away in 2007, Almeida returned to work as an advisor at St. Thomas. She also made great contributions to the publication of first high-quality images of human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV).

According to Hugh Pennington, Almeida was one of the most prominent Scottish scientists; however, her achievement didn’t gain enough recognition. The Coronavirus or COVID-19 once again reminds us of her success. As an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, Hugh Pennington was her colleague at St. Thomas.