June Almeida is the woman who first spotted human coronavirus way back in 1964 when she was only 34. She was examining nasal washings when she captured the images which were like that of influenza like flu but it wasn’t influenza. She then claimed that she had found a new virus, the claims were rejected by the peer journal review committee. The images she had captured of the virus had the virus surrounded by a crown or halo like appearance, which referees dismissed as just the bad pictures of influenza virus particles. They had no idea in just over 50 years this same virus would cause so much havoc around the world.
June was born June Hart on October 5, 1930 in Glasgow, her father was a bus driver. She had to drop out of the school at the age of 16 despite being a stellar student as she couldn’t afford it. She went on to work as a laboratory technician later in Glasgow. She married a Venezuelan artist and moved to Canada with her husband where she started working as an electron microscopy technician at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. Another reason why she moved to Canada was because it was easier to gain scientific recognition without a university degree in Canada at that time, than it was in Britain. She co-authored many scientific publications despite having no formal qualifications. In 1964, she moved back to London.
She is remembered as the pioneer of immune electron microscopy which made it possible for scientists to see viruses. In 1960’s she collaborated with another scientist DAJ Tyrell who was studying nasal washings from volunteers, out of those samples one sample, known as B814 obtained from the nasal washings of a pupil at Surrey boarding school could not be grown in the routine cell culture. Tyrell grew the virus in organ cultures and sent the samples to Almeida to ask if those could be seen under the microscope. Almeida not only managed to capture images of that virus, she identified the virus which came to be known as the first human coronavirus. This human coronavirus belonged the family of the viruses which also included SARS and COvid-19, the virus behind the reason of current ongoing pandemic. It has killed over 1.5 lakh people worldwide while infecting more than 20 lakh people so far.