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By taking on poliovirus, Marguerite Vogt transformed the study of all viruses

When nobody else wanted the job, Marguerite Vogt stepped in.

Working from early morning until late at night in a small, isolated basement laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, Vogt painstakingly handled test tubes and petri dishes under a fume hood: incubating, pipetting, centrifuging, incubating again. She was trying to grow a dangerous pathogen: poliovirus.

It was 1952 and polio was one of the most feared diseases in America, paralyzing more than 15,000 people, mostly children, each year. Parents wouldn’t let their children play outside, and quarantines were instituted in neighborhoods with polio cases.

Scientists were desperate for information about the virus, but many were hesitant to work with the infectious agent. “Everybody was afraid to go to that little lab in the basement,” says Martin Haas, professor of biology and oncology at the University of California, San Diego, and a personal friend and collaborator of Vogt’s for over three decades.

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