History of microbiology

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The foundations of microbiology were established in the later 19th century, with the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. Since then, many disease-causing microorganisms have been identified and means of controlling their harmful effects have been developed. In addition, means of channeling the activities of various microorganisms to benefit medicine, industry, and agriculture have been discovered. Molds, for example, produce antibiotics, notably penicillin. See also bacteriology, genetic engineering.

Timeline of Microbiology Discoveries

The chief discoveries of microbiology took place in a period starting in the 1500s.

Date Event
1546 Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro suggests that invisible organisms may cause disease.
1665 Robert Hooke publishes his discovery of cells in cork.
1676 Antony van Leeuwenhoek observes bacteria and protozoa using his homemade microscope.
1717 Mary Wortley Montagu introduced the smallpox vaccination to England from Turkey.
1767 Lazzaro Spallanzani helped dispute the theory of spontaneous generation.
1796 Edward Jenner introduces a vaccination procedure for smallpox.
1838-1839 Mathias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann independently propose that all organisms are composed of cells, the basic unit of life.
1840 J. Henle presents a clear exposition of the germ theory of disease.
1847-1850 Ignaz Semelweis demonstrates that puerperal or childbed fever is a contagious disease transmitted by physicians to their patients during childbirth.
1853 Heinrich Anton deBary noted that plant disease is caused by bacteria.
1853-1854 John Snow demonstrates the epidemic spread of cholera through a water supply contaminated with human sewage.
1857 Louis Pasteurdemonstrates that yeast can degrade sugar to ethanol and carbon dioxide and multiply in the process.
1861 Louis Pasteur publishes experiments that refute the theory of spontaneous generation.
1864 Louis Pasteur develops pasteurization as a method to destroy unwanted organisms in wine.
1866 Gregor Mendel published results of experiments on the laws of inheritance, thus establishing the science of genetics.
1867 Joseph Lister publishes the first work on antiseptic surgery, beginning the trend toward modern aseptic techniques in medicine.
1875 Ferdinand J. Cohn published an early classification of bacteria and first used the genus name Bacillus.
1876 Robert Koch demonstrates that anthrax is caused by a bacterium.
1877 Ferdinand J. Cohn discovered the bacterial spore and related its resistance to sterilization processes.
1881 Robert Koch introduces the use of pure culture techniques for handling bacteria in the laboratory.
1881 Walther and Fanny Hesseintroduce agar-agar as a solidifying gel for culture media.
1882 Koch identifies the causative agent of tuberculosis.
1884 Koch states Koch's postulates for determining the cause of a disease.
1884 Elie Metchnikoff discovers phagocytic cells and thus begins the study of immunology.
1884 Christian Gram publishes a paper describing the Gram stain.
1884 Shibasaburo Kitasatodiscovered Clostridium tetani, the causative agent of tetanus.
1884 Thomas J. Burrill pioneered the field of plant pathology. Discovers "fire blight" of fruit trees is caused by a bacterium.
1884 Erwin F. Smith, another pioneer plant pathologist, discovers "peach yellows" is caused by a virus.
1885 Theodor Escherich identified Escherichia coli as a natural inhabitant of the human gut.
1885 Louis Pasteur published his work on immunization against rabies.
1887 Julius Petri adapts two plates to form a container for holding media and culturing microbes - the Petri dish.
1887 David Bruce identified Brucella melitensis as causative agent of brucellosis in cattle.
1888 Martinus Beijerinck obtained a pure culture of root nodule bacterium Rhizobium and studied the process of nitrogen fixation.
1890 Emil von Behring developed a diphtheria antitoxin.
1890 Paul Ehrlich proposed a theory of immunity in which antibodies are responsible for immunity.
1890 Sergei Winogradsky studied nitrifying bacteria, advanced the idea of autotrophic metabolism.
1892 Weisman demonstrated important role of nucleus in heredity (1892).
1897 Paul Ehrlichformulated sidechain theory of antibody formation.
1901 Emil von Behring received Nobel Prize for the development of serum treatment, especially for diphtheria.
1902 Sir Ronald Ross recieves the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the life cycle of malaria parasite in humans and mosquitoes.
1905 Robert Koch receives Nobel Prize for founding scientific bacteriology and proving the cause of tuberculosis.
1907 Charles Louis received Nobel Prize for showing protozoa are the cause of some infectious diseases.
1908 Paul Ehrlich develops the drug Salvarsan to treat syphilis, thereby starting the use of chemotherapy to treat diseases. Receives Nobel Prize.
1911 F. Peyton Rous discovers that a virus can cause cancer in chickens.
1912 Paul Ehrlich synthesized a "magic bullet" for syphilis.
1928 Frederick Griffith discovers genetic transformation in bacteria, thereby raising a key question in genetics: What chemical caused the transformation.
1929 Alexander Fleming discovers and describes the properties of the first antibiotic, penicillin.
1930 Karl Landsteiner receives the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the ABO human blood groups.
1931 Cornelius Van Niel pioneered work on the biochemistry of photosynthesis in sulfur bacteria.
1935 Gerhardt Komagk discovered sulfur drug for chemotherapy. Receives the Nobel Prize in 1939.
1941 Selman Waksman described production of the antibiotic actinomycin, streptothricin, cycloserines and novobiocin by actinomycetes. Receives Nobel Prize in 1952.
1941 George Beadleand Edward Tatum produce evidence of genetic mutants, opening the field of molecular genetics.
1944 Oswald Avery , Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty demonstrate that Griffith's transforming principle is DNA.
1944 Joshua Lederbergand Edward Tatum demonstrate that DNA can be transferred from one bacterium to another. Received Nobel Prize in 1958 with George Beadle.
1945 Alexander Fleming, Sir E. B. Chain and Lord H.W. Florey receive the Nobel Prize for disscovering penicillin, the first antibiotic.
1948 Barbara McClintock demonstrates transposable elements in maize, and almost two decades later they are discovered in bacteria.
1950 Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Brown discovered antifungal nystatin.
1951 Max Theiler receives the Nobel Prize for developing a vaccine for yellow fever.
1953 James Watson , Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins determine the structure of DNA. Receive Nobel Prize in 1962.
1954 Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine.
1954 John F. Enders, T.H. Weller and F.C. Robbins receive the Nobel Prize for growing poliovirus in cell cultures, making the polio vaccine possible.
1955 Polio vaccine approved by the U.S. government.
1957 D. Carlton Gajdusek demonstrates the slow infectious nature of the disease kuru, which is later shown to be caused by a prion.
1969 Max Delbruck, Alfred Hershey and Salvadore E. Luria receive Nobel Prize for describing the mechanism of viral infection of bacterial cells.
1977 Carl Woese classifies all life into three domains.
1980 A rare cancer in humans is shown to be caused by a retrovirus.
1980 The World Health Organization declares eradication of smallpox in the world.
1987 Susumu Tonegawa recieves Nobel Prize for work on the genetics of antibody diversity.
1995 The first complete nucleotide sequence of a bacterial chromosome is reported (Haemophilus influenzae).
1997 Stanley B. Prusiner receives Nobel Prize for the discovery and characterization of prions.
1998 An autoimmune disease (chronic arthritis) is linked to bacterial infection.
2000 The first new antibiotic in 35 years, Zyvox, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

See Also


Talaro, Kathleen P. and Talaro, Arthur (1999). Foundations in Microbiology (Columbus, OH: WCB/McGraw-Hill), 3rd ed., p. 10.