The discovery of a new class of pathogen, viruses, in the late 19th century, ushered in a period of study of the biochemical and structural properties of these entities in which plant viruses played a prominent role. This was, in large part, due to the relative ease with which sufficient quantities of material could be produced for such analyses. As analytical techniques became increasingly sensitive, similar studies could be performed on the viruses from other organisms. However, plant viruses continued to play an important role in the development of molecular biology, including the demonstration that RNA can be infectious, the determination of the genetic code, the mechanism by which viral RNAs are translated, and some of the early studies on gene silencing. Thus, the study of plant viruses should not be considered a "niche" subject but rather part of the mainstream of virology and molecular biology.