Beryllium was discovered in 1798 by the French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, who found it in the oxide form in beryl and a green-colored variety of beryl, emerald.
"For the most part, it depends upon a genetic susceptibility," he said.
About 85 percent of people who develop chronic beryllium disease after getting exposed have an immune system protein known as HLA-DP2, according to recent research published in July 2014 in the journal Cell.
Lew Pepper, a medical researcher at Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Systems in New York.
Despite its toxicity, the element is highly useful because of its unique qualities.
"The beryllium changes the shape of otherwise innocuous self-peptides [peptides produced by the body's own tissues] so that T cells recognize them as foreign and dangerous." (T cells are white blood cells that are essential for one's immunity.) He added that the new findings could one day lead to new therapeutic strategies to treat and prevent chronic beryllium disease.
Using a technique known as cosmogenic nuclide dating, scientists can determine how long rocks have been exposed to the air by measuring their levels of beryllium-10, a radioactive isotope of beryllium.
Uniquely strong and light, beryllium is used to make cell phones, missiles and aircrafts.
But workers who handle the metal need to watch out, as airborne beryllium has been known to be highly toxic.
Other beryllium alloys are used in high-speed aircrafts and missiles, as well as spacecraft and communication satellites.
Beryllium copper is also used in windshield frame, brake discs, support beams, and other structural components of the space shuttle.
Beryl and bertrandite are the most important commercial sources of the element and its compounds.