History of Bacteriology

Abstract

Bacteriology was established in the 1880s as the science of disease germs. However, experimental explorations in the world of microorganisms had started already in the seventeenth century, and botanists and zoologists in the eighteenth century had tried to structure and classify the world of the invisible living organisms. With the German physician Robert Koch the science of microorganisms moved into the realm of medicine. Koch identified several bacteria as the causes of infectious diseases and he contributed greatly to the stabilisation of distinct bacterial species. Medical bacteriology promoted laboratory medicine and Louis Pasteur in Paris developed techniques to attenuate microorganisms in order to produce vaccines. Antibiotics became widely available only after the Second World War. Bacteriology has also developed in relation to agriculture, water (pollution) and biotechnology. Non‐medical approaches to the micro‐world contributed to a broader understanding of microorganisms not only as pathogens but as essential entities in ecological life cycles. At the turn of the twenty‐first century, reductionist views of host–parasite relation gave way to more complex, process‐orientated and environmentalist approaches.

Key Concepts

  • First experimental encounters with microorganisms took place using microscopic techniques in the seventeenth century.
  • Classification of microorganisms was discussed by zoologists and botanists since the mid‐eighteenth century.
  • A causal linkage between microorganisms and disease was established only in the last third of the nineteenth century.
  • Medical bacteriology developed around the laboratories of Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur and had tremendous effects on public health as well as on conceptions of the body and disease.
  • Robert Koch's bacteriological thought style implied a reductionist approach to infectious disease.
  • Broadly applicable antibacterial therapeutic remedies (antibiotics) became widely available only in the second half of the twentieth century.
  • Bacteriology has also developed in relation to agriculture, marine biology, water pollution, bacterial genetics and biotechnologies.
  • Environmentalist and evolutionary approaches to microorganisms and host–parasite relation prevailed at the turn to the twenty‐first century.

Keywords: bacteriology; history; Robert Koch; Louis Pasteur; microbiology; laboratory science; host–parasite relation

Figure 1. ‘Animalcula infusoria’ classed as Vibrio by O.F. Müller in 1786. Reproduced from O.F. Müller 1786. https://archive.org/stream/animalculainfuso00ml#page/n449/mode/2up.
Figure 2. Anthrax bacillus presented by Robert Koch in 1876. Reproduced from Robert Koch, 1876 https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Koch#/media/File:Aetiologie_der_Milzbrandkrankheit.jpg.
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Further Reading

Bulloch W (1938) The History of Bacteriology. London: Oxford University Press.

Collard P (1976) The Development of Microbiology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Foster WD (1970) A History of Medical Bacteriology and Immunology. London: Heinemann Medical.

Geison GL (1995) The Private Science of Louis Pasteur. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gradmann C (2009) Laboratory Disease. Robert Koch's Medical Bacteriology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

O'Malley MA (2014) Philosophy of Microbiology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wall R (2013) Bacteria in Britain, 1880–1939. London, Brookfield: Pickering & Chatoo.

Worboys M (2000) Spreading Germs. Disease Theories and Medical Practice in Britain, 1865–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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How to Cite close
Kreuder‐Sonnen, Katharina(Aug 2016) History of Bacteriology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003073.pub2]