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Microbiology’s 50 Most Significant Events 1875–Present

Browse specific time periods.

1875 Ferdinand J. Cohn

875bacillusFerdinand J. Cohn contributes to the founding of the science of bacteriology. He publishes an early classification of bacteria using the genus name Bacillus for the first time.

More Information:

Cohn, F., 1875. Untersuchungen ueber Bakterien. Beitraege zur Biologie der Planzen 1:127-222 In Milestones in Microbiology: 1556 to 1940, translated and edited by Thomas D. Brock, ASM Press. 1998, p210 [pdf]

Ferdinand Cohn, a Founder of Modern Microbiology, ASM News 65. 1999.p.547

1876 Robert Koch

876kochRobert Koch publishes a paper on his work with anthrax, pointing explicitly to a bacterium as the cause of this disease. This validates the germ theory of disease. His work on anthrax was presented and his papers on the subject were published under the auspices of Ferdinand Cohn.

More Information:

Koch, R. 1876. Untersuchungen ueber Bakterien V. Die Aetiologie der Milzbrand-Krankheit, begruendent auf die Entwicklungsgeschichte des Bacillus Anthracis. Beitr. z. Biol. D. Pflanzen 2: 277-310. In Milestones in Microbiology: 1556 to 1940, translated and edited by Thomas D. Brock, ASM Press. 1998, p89 [pdf].

1878 Joseph Lister

878listermilkJoseph Lister publishes his study of lactic fermentation of milk, demonstrating the specific cause of milk souring. His research is conducted using the first method developed for isolating a pure culture of a bacterium, which he names Bacterium lactis.

More Information:

Lister, J. 1878. On lactic fermentation and its bearing on pathology. Trans Path. Soc., Lond. xxix: 425-67. In Milestones in Microbiology: 1556 to 1940, translated and edited by Thomas D. Brock, ASM Press. 1998, p58 [pdf]

1880 Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur develops a method of attenuating a virulent pathogen the agent of chicken cholera, so it would immunize and not cause disease. This is the conceptual breakthrough for establishing protection against disease by the inoculation of a weakened strain of the causative agent. Pasteur uses the word ”attenuated” to mean weakened. As Pasteur acknowledged, the concept came from Edward Jenner’s earlier success at smallpox vaccination.

More Information:

Plasmids, Pasteur, and Anthrax, ASM News 49,1983. p.320 [pdf]

Pasteur, L. 1880. De l'attenuation du virus cholera des poules. Compte rend. Acad. se. 91: 673-680 In Milestones in Microbiology: 1556 to 1940, translated and edited by Thomas D. Brock, ASM Press. 1998, p126 [pdf]

1881 Robert Koch

881kochRobert Koch struggles with the disadvantages of using liquid media for certain experiments. He seeks out alternatives, and first uses an aseptically cut slice of a potato as a solid culture medium. He also turns to gelatin, which is added to culture media; the resulting mixture is poured onto flat glass plates and allowed to gel. The plate technique is used to isolate pure cultures of bacteria from colonies growing on the surface of the plate.

More Information:

Gesundheitsampte 1: 1-48. In Milestones in Microbiology: 1556 to 1940, translated and edited by Thomas D. Brock, ASM Press. 1998, p101 [pdf]

1885 Louis Pasteur

885pasteurLouis Pasteur oversees injections of the child Joseph Meister with “aged” spinal cord allegedly infected with rabies virus. Pasteur uses the term “virus” meaning poison, but has no idea of the nature of the causitive organism. Although the treatment is successful, the experiment itself is an ethical violation of research standards. Pasteur knew he was giving the child successively more dangerous portions.

More Information:

Pasteur: High Priest of Microbiology, ASM News 61, 1995. p.575 [pdf]

Pasteur's Dilemma: The Road Not Taken. ASM News vol. 40, 1974, p. 703 [pdf]
Preface to René Dubos' Pasteur and Modern Science by Gerald L. Geison [pdf]

1889 Martinus Beijerinck

beijerinck1889Martinus Beijerinck uses enrichment culture, minus nitrogenous compounds, to obtain a pure culture of the root nodule bacterium Rhizobium, demonstrating that enrichment culture creates the conditions for optimal growth of a desired bacterium.

More Information:

Early Biotechnology: The Delft Connection, ASM News 59, 1993. p.401 [pdf]

Beijerinck, M. 1888. Die Bakterien de Papilionaceenknollchen. Botanische Zeitung, Vol. 46: 725-804. In Milestones in Microbiology: 1556 to 1940, translated and edited by Thomas D. Brock, ASM Press. 1998, p220 [pdf]

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