Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Neeraja Sankaran — A Tale of Two Viruses


Closed-captioning available on Youtube.

In this episode of Perspectives, we speak with Neeraja Sankaran, author of A Tale of Two Viruses: Parallels in the Research Trajectories of Tumor and Bacterial Viruses.

In her book, Neeraja Sankaran compares the research trajectories of two groups of viruses: cancer-causing viruses and bacteriophages, which infect bacteria. She discusses how their respective discoveries--in 1911 by Peyton Rous and 1916 by Felix d'Herelle--changed our understanding of what viruses are, how they operate, and what they are capable of doing in animal and human bodies. Dr. Sankaran discusses the ways in which the phenomenal development of biomedical imaging and identification technologies in the middle decades of the 20th century allowed for our current understanding of viruses. She ends her discussion with a poignant and timely call to recognize that stigmas of all kinds--whether against certain groups of people, or against viruses themselves as potential agents of disease--have often hindered the development of science and medicine.

Neeraja Sankaran was a 2018-2019 Research Fellow at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

To cite this podcast, please use footnote:

Neeraja Sankaran, interview, Perspectives, Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, August 30, 2021, https://www.chstm.org/video/122. 



Neeraja SankaranNeeraja Sankaran is Senior Research Scholar at the Descartes Centre of Utrecht University. She is a historian of science and medicine interested in the recent and near-contemporary history of the biomedical sciences, and has worked on the history of virus research, molecular biology, immunology, and origins of life research. 

Insights from the Collections

The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about virology, microbiology, and the social context of medicine. 

Our cross-institutional search tool allows researchers to investigate materials across multiple institutions from a single interface. With more than 4.4 million catalog records of rare books and manuscripts, the Consortium's search hub offers scholars and the public the ability to identify and locate relevant materials. 

Search the Consortium search hub.

Some archival materials related to this topic include:

Thomas Foxen Anderson Papers, American Philosophical Society

Simon Flexner Papers, American Philosophical Society

Salvador E. Luria Papers, American Philosophical Society 

James Bumgardner Murphy Papers, American Philosophical Society

Peyton Rous Papers, American Philosophical Society

Max Delbrück Papers, Caltech

Oral history interview with David Baltimore, Science History Institute 

Oral history interview with Bernard N. Fields, Science History Institute 

Howard Temin Papers, University of Wisconsin

G.D. Hsiung Papers, Yale University 

See also recent work by our fellows:

Charles Kollmer, From Elephant to Bacterium: Microbes, Microbiologists, and the Chemical Order of Nature