More than ever medical scientists ae now relying on the history of microbiology is the ongoing history of how scientists are conquering disease processes. They must know what has been before they can proceed to uncover more leads into how these can help their quest for disease control. Those following learn from what has been discovered and they in term add to, define, deny, and generally fill in the blanks. While carrying on their work discovering and attempting to answer their own questions, they too leave vacancies of thought that others will fill. Therefore the question here is how to present this basic history of microbiology. The field is so vast and there is so much already written; to condense it is problematic in itself.
There are many ways of going about this study, which by its very nature is so broad that here all we can do is to skim the surface. We can begin with the discovery of the microscope by Antony Leeuwenhoek in 1677 and forward that to present discoveries; we can trace diseases and discuss the responsible microbes; trace the “germ theory” of diseases; emphasize viruses as opposed to bacteria; or we can concentrate our efforts on molecules and their discovery, methods and theories. I will do a little of each.
Discovery of the Microscope
Leeuwenhoek, born in Holland in 1932 was an unlikely candidate to discover anything scientific; he was not educated for such loftiness. However, he was not an unlikely candidate as he knew himself. Here’s what he has to say on this matter: (Writers take note!)
“. . . my work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof. Letter of June 12, 1716 “
He was a fabric salesman and business person, how could he be expected to do anything as important and as historic as it has come to be known? Entrepreneurial in spirit, he involved himself in many other ventures, and, it would seem, he knew no boundaries. One of these happened to be lens grinding. He is credited with other biological discoveries such as the “discovery of bacteria, sperm cells, blood cellshis researches, which were widely circulated, opened up an entire world of microscopic life to the awareness of scientist.”
Methods of culturing microbes
After the advent of the microscope other scientist picked up where Leeuwenhoek left off and carried bacteriology and virology further. Robert Koch and R.J. Petri are two scientists recognized for their detection work in disease-causing organisms. Koch understood how to use a methyl violet dye to stain germ so they could be photographed. In this way others could recognize them; Petri invented the Petri dish. This method of using gelatin to grow the organism for viewing has hardly changed since it was first invented.
Theory of disease
Here again the same scientists are mentioned with their insights on how diseases come about. Pasteur, Lister and Koch stand out above the others with their intense notions on how diseased conditions originate: Louis Pasteur, a French Chemist was born December 27, 1822 and has numerous contributions to his credit in what makes us sick. One of his theories was in contaminated milk. Therefore the first invention that comes to mind when his name is mentioned is the pasteurization of milk. Other first were his use of vaccines for rabies, his studies and treatments for anthrax and cholera.
Joseph Lister, born in 1827, was a British surgeon. It was he who first learned that the reason that at least half of his amputated patients were from contamination. He had learned of Pasteur’s theory of how infection starts and started using phenol as an antiseptic. It worked and in time others followed his example.
Robert Koch already cited for his discovery of bacteriology, also discovered in 1876 the anthrax disease cycle and in 1882, the culprit germ causing tuberculosis. In 1905, for his hard work and dedication he was honored with the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Control of disease
Recognizable names keep appearing when researching those who spent their lives learning about disease control.
Beginning in 1796 with Edward Jenner; in 1867 Joseph Lister; 1885 with Louis Pasteur; 1900 with Walter Reed; 1910 with Paul Ehrlich and with Alexander Fleming in 1928. This is only a partial list and is an ongoing process and is becoming more so with each new discovery.
The latest breakthrough which has promised us much in disease eradication is the discovery of how DNA, that strand of protein individual to each of us interacts to keep us healthy or alerts us to further trouble in life as predispositions to this or that is ferreted out.
Edward Jenner, born in 1749, discovered a vaccine for smallpox; Walter Reed, a U.S. pathologist and bacteriologist, a member of the Army Medical Corps in 1875 is responsible for recognizing the spread of typhoid fever by mosquito bites. We owe our very lives to these trailblazers. May others with equal dedication and foresightContinue their important work.