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October 17, 2018

How “omnioma” virus became “polyoma” virus…

Omnioma to Polyma Virus

The arrow points to an intranuclear viral inclusion characteristic of BK virus, one species of non-enveloped dsDNA viruses belonging to the polyoma virus family.  Sarah Stewart (see inset), a physician and research scientist, studied viral oncogenesis (she was the first woman to earn an M.D. degree from Georgetown Medical School).  Dr. Stewart and her collaborator, Dr. Bernice Eddy (Ph.D. virologist), renamed the parotid tumor virus originally discovered by Ludwik Gross “SE polyoma virus” (the “SE” was for “Stewart-Eddy”).  Interestingly, Dr. Stewart like the name “omnioma” virus, but Eddy suggested the term “polyoma” virus since not all viral infections caused tumors in all tested animals.  The detailed history of this virus family and its discoverers is chronicled in a fascinating article by Gregory J. Morgan (see below).


Morgan GJ. Ludwik Gross, Sarah Stewart, and the 1950s discoveries of Gross murine leukemia virus and polyoma virus. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2014 Dec;48 Pt B:200-9.  PMID: 25223721.

Photograph of Dr. Sarah Stewart, 1971.  Public domain (National Library of Medicine)