In 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a program of world-wide eradication of smallpox through mass immunization and vigorous containment of outbreaks. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was identified in Somalia in 1977. After two additional years of worldwide surveillance, on October 26, 1979, WHO announced the global eradication of smallpox.
The virus remained in storage at two authorized sites--the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and the Research Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow, Russia. In an address to the World Health Assembly in May 1990, United States Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan stated that technological advances had made it possible to map the entire smallpox genome within three years. Scientists agreed that the preferred first step toward the destruction of the virus was to determine its complete DNA sequence and in that way retain the essential scientific information of what would become an extinct virus. At a meeting of the ad hoc WHO Committee on Orthopoxvirus Infections held in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 1990, it was agreed that all remaining stocks of the Vaccinia virus would be destroyed by December 31, 1993.
Li-Ing Liu received a B.A. in nursing from the National Taiwan University in 1979, and an M.S. in nursing from the National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan, in 1983. In 1990, she was awarded a Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics from the University of Illinois, Chicago. In 1990, she joined the staff of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a special volunteer on the sequencing project.
Brian Wilfred John Mahy received a B.S. from the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry at the University of Southampton, England, in 1959, and a Ph.D. there in 1963. In 1965, Mahy entered the Wolfson College of the University of Cambridge, where he received an M.A. in pathology in 1966 and a Doctor of Science in virology in 1982. From September 1973 to August 1974, Mahy conducted research on RNA tumor viruses at the University of California, San Francisco. From September 1980 to August 1981, he researched coronaviruses at the Universitat Wurzburg, Germany. In 1984, he was appointed Director of the Animal Virus Research Institute, Pirbright, Surrey, England, and in 1986, became head of the Pirbright Laboratory Institute for Animal Health. In 1989, he accepted the position of Director of the Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases at the National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.
J. Craig Venter received a B.A. in biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego in 1972, and a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology in 1975. From 1976 to 1982, he served as a Professor of pharmacology and biochemistry at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. From 1982 to 1985 he served as Associate Chief Cancer Research Scientist in the Department of Molecular Immunology at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute. In 1983 he was appointed Adjunct Professor of biochemical pharmacology at SUNY-Buffalo, and joined NIH in 1984 as Chief of the Receptor Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Section, NINDS. In 1987 he also became Co-director of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology at NINDS, and was appointed Director of the NINDS DNA facility.
Teresa Utterback, a medical technologist working as a sequencing technician on the smallpox project, demonstrated DNA sequencing processes; Nicolay Selivanov, an Associate Professor at the Soviet Institute of Virology working on advanced cloning and subcloning of viral genes, demonstrated his template making of the pox virus, and Anthony Kerlavage demonstrated the data processing associated with the project.