Feisty and lacking formal education, she was largely forgotten – until Covid-19 came along.

But the daughter of a Glasgow bus driver is still playing a major role in the fight against coronavirus, nearly 13 years after her death.

For June Almeida, the virologist who discovered the first human coronavirus, has been hailed as "one of the greatest scientists of her generation".

Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University – and one of the country's leading microbiologists – said Mrs Almeida became his mentor.

The scientist worked at St Thomas' Hospital, London, with Mrs Almeida – who he said was "unconventional but brilliant."

"Without her pioneering work things would be slower in dealing with the current coronavirus outbreak. Her work has speeded up our understanding of the virus. She was a pioneer," said Prof Pennington.

"She was an outstanding talent – hall of fame, definitely. What she touched in her research turned to gold.

"Without doubt she is one of the outstanding Scottish scientists of her generation, but sadly largely forgotten. Though ironically this Covid-19 outbreak has shone a light again on her work.

"Her work is now helping in the fight against Covid-19.

"For instance the Chinese used her technology to identify it. They repeated what she had done in looking at the culture.

"What June did is so relevant now. Her methods are still being used and it is helping in the current outbreak."

Mrs Almeida, who died in December 2007 aged 77, had far from a classic scientific path.

Incredibly despite little formal education, she became a Doctor of Science and a pioneer in virus imaging, identification and diagnosis.

Born at 10 Duntroon Street, Glasgow, to Jane Dalziel and Harry Leonard Hart, a bus driver, she left school at 16 to work as a histopathology technician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

She then moved to St Bartholomew's Hospital in London to continue her career.

In 1954 she married Enriques Rosalio (Henry) Almeida, a Venezuelan artist. They had a daughter, Joyce.

The family moved to Canada where Mrs Almeida worked at the Ontario Cancer Institute as an electronmicroscopist.

Despite having few qualifications, she was promoted in line with her outstanding abilities.

Publications credited her for her work on identifying viral structure. Her talents were recognised by A. P. Waterson, then professor of microbiology at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London, who persuaded her to return to England to work at the hospital.

Mrs Almeida developed a method to better visualise viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them. She worked on hepatitis B and the cold virus.

She also produced the first images of the rubella virus using immune electron microscopy.

And, working with David Tyrrell, she characterised a new type of viruses now called coronaviruses. This family includes the Sars virus.

"Around 20 percent of common colds are thought to be caused by the coronavirus they discovered," said Prof Pennington.

"She discovered the virus that is parent, if you like, in this family.

"Her story is remarkable – she left school with hardly any qualifications at 16.

"She was feisty without being domineering and had very strong views on science. Firm views strongly held.

"I never thought being a woman held her back. She was not discriminated against in biology. She made her own way and responded vigorously to any criticism. She was usually right.

"Her first paper on coronavirus was turned down. It was not well received because it was based on electromicroscopic pictures. But eventually it was published.

"In fact she was so good she was head-hunted to come back to the UK.

"What she was good at – doing the technology – is applied today. She was a pioneer in that particularly. She also had a talent for picking the right topic to work on and not wasting time on things that could not be solved.

"June was unconventional for a scientist – in retirement she became an antique dealer and a yoga teacher. She was a person of many talents."

Mrs Almeida followed Prof Waterson to the Postgraduate Medical School in London where her contributions to articles were recognised by her award of a doctorate. She finished her career at the Wellcome Institute.

While working for Wellcome she was named on several patents in the field of imaging viruses.

After leaving Wellcome – and becoming a yoga teacher – she was lured back but in an advisory role in the late 1980s when she helped take novel pictures of the HIV virus.

She published a World Health Organisation manual for rapid laboratory viral diagnosis in 1979.

Never has that been more needed than now.