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11/17/2018 List of 11 Pioneer Microbiologists of the World

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List of 11 Pioneer
Microbiologists of
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List of eleven pioneer Microbiologists


of the World:- 1. Antony Van
Leeuwenhoek 2. Louis Pasteur 3.
Robert Koch 4. Edward Jenner 5. Paul
Ehrlich 6. Martinus W. Beijerinck 7.
Sergei N. Winogradsky 8. Dimitri
Ivanovski 9. Lazzaro Spallanzani 10.
Joseph Lister 11. Alexander Fleming.

Microbiologist # 1. Antony Van


Leeuwenhoek:

Antony van Leeuwenhoek (pronounced Lay-


wen-hook) (1632-1723), a citizen of Delft,

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Holland, was not a man of great learning,


but he was very ingenious. He became
expert in the grinding of simple magnifying
lenses.

He made these lenses of small bits of glass,


polished them very carefully, and mounted
each separately between two brass, copper,
silver, or gold plates, to which he fastened
an adjustable holder for the object to be-
examined.

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He constructed many of these ‘microscopes’


each containing a single lens ground by
himself. The best of lenses magnified about
200 times. His microscopes were superior to
any of that time.

He observed, drew and measured a large


number of living organisms including
bacteria and protozoa in materials such as
rain water, pond and well water, and saliva

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and the intestinal contents of healthy


subjects and communicated them to the
Royal Society of London in 1683.

He is known as the father of bacteriology


because it was he who first accurately
described the different shapes of bacteria
(coccal, bacillary and spiral) and pictured
their arrangement in infected material.

Leeuwenhoek observed that very large


numbers of bacteria appeared in watery
infusions of animals or vegetable matter
which were left to stand for a week or two at
room temperature. He believed that these
huge populations were the progeny of a few
parental organisms, or seeds that were
originally present in the materials of the
infusion or had entered it from the air.

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The significance of these observations was


not realized then and to Leeuwenhoek the

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world of ‘little animalcules’ represented only


a curiosity of nature. Their importance in
medicine and other areas of biology came to
be recognized two centuries later.

In addition to his work in microbiology,


Leeuwenhoek made other contributions to
medicine. He gave the first complete
account of the red blood cell, demonstrated
the capillary connections between-arteries
and veins, and made other important
anatomical observations.

In 1677, he described for the first time the


spermatozoa from insects, dogs, and man.
He studied the structure of the optic lens,
striations in muscles, the mouth parts of
insects, and the fine structure of plans. In
1680, he noticed that yeasts consist of
minute globular particles.

Microbiologist # 2. Louis Pasteur:

Pasteur’s contributions are many and great.


The diversity of the fields in which he used
his talents is astounding. The credit of a
sound and scientific beginning of
microbiology goes to him, and hence he is
rightly called the Founder of Microbiology.

Louis Pasteur (1822-95) was born in the


village of Dole (France) on December 27,
1822. His father was a tanner. Pasteur was
originally trained as a chemist, but his
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studies on fermentation led him to take


interest in microorganisms. His discoveries
revolutionized medical practice, although he
never studied medicine.

1. The term ‘microbiology’, as the study of


living organisms of microscopic size, was
coined by Pasteur.

2. He also coined the term ‘vaccine’.

3. He concluded during the period between


1844-57.

a) That optically active compounds, such as


the stereo-isomeric forms of tartaric acid
and amyl alcohol, never arose from the
purely chemical decomposition of sugars but
were formed from them by the action of
microorganisms. These were always present
in fermenting liquors and increased in
number as the process continued.

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b) He used different forms of nutrient fluid


to grow microorganisms and demonstrated
that a medium suitable for one might be
unsuitable for another. He advocated that
for successful cultivation of microorganisms
it was necessary to discover a suitable
growth medium and to establish optimal
conditions of temperature, acidity or
alkalinity, and oxygen tension.

c) He emphasized the need for scrupulous


sterilization of everything coming into
contact with the material under examination
and demonstrated numerous sources of
contamination from air, dust and water.

He demonstrated that some organisms were


not destroyed by boiling. For the
sterilization of fluids he advocated heating
to 120°C under pressure and for glassware
the use of dry heat at 170°C. He showed the
value of the cotton-wool plug for protecting
material from aerial recontamination.
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4. In 1860-61, he provided strong evidence


to disapprove the theory of spontaneous
generation.

5. In 1860-64, he gave experimental


evidence that fermentation and putrefaction
are effects of microbial growth.

6. In 1863-65, he developed the process of


destroying bacteria, known as
pasteurization. He proved that the ‘disease
of wine’ could be prevented without altering
the flavour by heating the wine for a short
time to a temperature (55°-60°C), a little
more than halfway between its freezing and
boiling points.

This process (pasteurization) is employed


throughout the civilized world today to
preserve milk and certain other perishable
foods.

7. In 1865, he was asked to attempt to find


the cause of pebrine, a disease which was
threatening to ruin the business of raising
silkworms, an important industry in
Southern France.

Pasteur succeeded in demonstrating that


this silkworm disease was caused by
microscopic germs — protozoa and showed
that the infection could be eliminated by
choosing for breeding only those worms

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which were free of the parasites. This


discovery was one more step towards the
establishment of the truth of the germs
theory of disease.

8. In 1877, Koch and Pasteur demonstrated


that anthrax is caused by bacteria. Pasteur
grew the organisms in sterilized yeast water
and kept them in the laboratory for several
months, transferring them frequently to new
culture fluid, in which they multiplied
readily, and showed that these cultures
would always cause anthrax when
inoculated into healthy animals.

9. In 1880, he prevented chicken cholera by


injection of live attenuated culture. He
found that pure cultures of the germ of this
disease which had been kept in the
laboratory for some time would not kill his
animals as fresh cultures did, but would
merely cause a passing illness from which
the chickens recovered.

Then he discovered that the animals that


had recovered from a previous inoculation of
weakened germs were immune, and did not
succumb to the disease. Pasteur
immediately perceived that it might be
possible to make individuals resistant by
inoculating them with the weakened (and
therefore harmless) germs of a particular
disease.
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10. In 1880, he first successfully cultured


staphylococci in liquid medium and
produced abscesses by inoculating them into
rabbits.

11. In 1881, he developed live attenuated


anthrax vaccine.

12. In 1881, pneumococci were first noticed


by Pasteur and Sternberg independently.

13. Pasteur’s crowning achievement was the


successful application of the principle of
vaccination to the prevention of rabies, or
hydrophobia, in human beings and the
development of rabies vaccine in 1885.

He did not find the germs of this disease


under his microscope (now known as rabies
virus) but he was able to propagate them by
artificial inoculation into the brains of dogs
and rabbits.

Finally he evolved a system of vaccination


with weakened virus which prevented the
development of this fatal disease it the
inoculations are given soon after the bite of
the rabid animal. He gave the first successful
treatment for rabies in 1885 to a young boy
bitten by a rabid dog.

14. In 1887, Pasteur and Joubert first


described Clostridium septicum and called it

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Vibrion septique.

15. In 1888, in recognition of his


incomparable achievements, the Pasteur
Institute of Paris was established by public
contribution during his lifetime for
investigations of infectious diseases and
preparation of vaccines. Acclaimed the
world over for his epoch making discoveries,
Pasteur died in Paris on September 28,
1895. His body lies in Pasteur Institute of
Paris.

Microbiologist # 3. Robert Koch:

A bacteriologist second only to Louis


Pasteur and popularly called the ‘Founder of
Microbial Techniques’ was Robert Koch
(1843-1910). He was born on December 11,
1843 in Germany. In 1866, he took his
degree in Medicine and began a general
practice in a small country town. In 1872, he
took a diploma in Public Health and became
interested in microscopical studies.

With a microscope given as a birthday


present by his wife he set up a primitive
laboratory and started his studies on
microbes in relation to diseases. Later, he
became the first director of the Koch
Institute for infectious diseases which was
established in 1891.

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Koch attracted many pupils from all over the


world; his pupils include famous
bacteriologists as bacillus), Loeffler
(discoverer of diphtheria bacillus) von
Behring (discoverer of diphtheria antitoxin),
Pfieffer (described Pfieffer’s bacillus and
phenomenon), Kitasato (discoverer of
plague bacillus), Welch (discoverer of gas
gangrene bacillus), Ehrlich and Wasserman.
In 1905, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in
Medicine for his work on tuberculosis.

His contributions to microbiology are


variegated and enormous:

1. In 1876, Robert Koch successfully isolated


anthrax bacillus in pure culture, studied the
formation and germination of its spores, and
provided the proof of its infectiousness. This
agent as the sole cause of anthrax was
confirmed by Pasteur.

2. In 1877, he introduced the method of


making smears of bacteria on glass slides,
and of staining them with the aniline dyes.
He was also the first to employ in
bacteriological work the improved
compound microscope of Abbe.

3. In 1878, his studies of would infections


explored the role of animal experimentation
in establishing the cause of bacterial
infections.
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4. In 1881, he described means of cultivating


bacteria on solid media, thus making it
possible to obtain pure cultures by
transferring material from a single colony.

First he used as his growth medium pieces of


potato, then 2.5-5.0% gelatin to prepare
solid media fortifying them with 1% meat
extract as an essential ingredient. He poured
melted nutrient gelatin on glass slides and
allowed them to set under a bell jar to
prevent contamination.

He inoculated media using sterile needles or


platinum wires dipped in suspensions to
take minimum inoculum and lightly drawing
lines across the medium. He also developed
pour-plate method. At the suggestion of
Frau Hesse, his cook, he substituted agar in
place of gelatin as solidifying agent for the
media. The hanging-drop method of
studying bacteria as used today is a product
of his genius.

5. In 1882, Koch surprised the world by


announcing his discovery of tubercle
bacillus (Mycobacterium tuberculosis), the
causative agent of tuberculosis. He
described a special staining method for
detection of this organism and grew it in
pure cultures in the laboratory.

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He showed that animals would develop


tuberculosis when inoculated with pure
cultures of this organism, and recovered the
identical organisms from the diseased
tissues of the animals. The discovery of the
tubercle bacillus made him internationally
famous and the bacillus was called Koch’s
bacillus and tuberculosis, Koch’s disease

6. In 1883 he discovered the causative


agents of cholera (Vibrio cholerae), Egyptian
ophthalmia (pink eye) and Koch Week’s
bacillus.

7. In 1884, Koch expounded the postulates


or laws by which an organism may be
proved to be the cause of a particular
disease. These are known as Koch’s
postulates. He showed how he had fulfilled
these laws in his own studies on the
causation of tuberculosis.

He also discovered tuberculin a substance in


cultures of tubercle bacilli that causes a
specific reaction when injected into a
tuberculous individual. He advocated use of
tuberculin in the treatment of tuberculosis.
But unfortunately it was a grievous error
committed by him.

8. Koch continued his work on tuberculosis


with respect to tuberculin reactivity and in
1890-91, he showed how a normal guinea-
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pig and an already infected guinea-pig


behaved differently to an infection with
tubercle bacillus. This is known as Koch’s
phenomenon.

9. From 1885-90 Koch studies various


organisms present in water, soil and air and
their relation in prevention of disease.

10. He invented the hot air oven and steam


sterilizer, basic tools in any microbiology
laboratory. He developed methods for
testing antiseptics and to distinguish
between bacteriostatic and bactericidal
concentrations.

Microbiologist # 4. Edward Jenner:

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) was born in


Berkeley in 1749. Orphaned before he was 5-
years-old, his brothers and sister set him on
a career of medicine. He completed his
training with the great surgeon John Hunter
in London.

He introduced the modern method of


vaccination to prevent smallpox. He
observed that milkmaids who contracted
cowpox or vaccinia while milking were
subsequently immune to smallpox. On May
14, 1796 he devised a brave experiment.

He performed a vaccination against


smallpox by transferring material from a
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cowpox pustule on the hand of a milkmaid,


Sarah Nelmes, to the arm of a small boy
named James Phipps his gardener s son. Six
weeks later the boy was inoculated with
smallpox.

He failed to develop the disease. By 1798


Jenner published his results in 23 cases and
by 1800 about 6000 persons had been
inoculated with cowpox to prevent smallpox.
The terms vaccine and vaccination were first
used by Pasteur out of deference to Jenner.

In 1967 the World Health Organisation


masterminded final global plan to eradicate
smallpox. Success was announced in 1980
with the declaration Smallpox is dead.
Thanks to Jenner.

Edward Jenner’s discovery has now been


developed into one of the most important
parts of modern medicine-Immunology.
This science helps us to treat many
infectious diseases, and to understand
transplantation, allergies and diseases such
as rheumatoid arthritis and AIDS.

Jenner made several other important


contributions to medicine. He was probably
the first to associate angina with hardening
of the arteries. He also described rheumatic
hear, disease and purified important
medicines.
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Edward Jenner has also become in other


field of science. He was made a follow of the
Royal Society in 1789 for correctly described
the curious nesting behaviour of cuckoos.
He was also one of the first to publish
convincing evidence that some species of
birds migrated to other countries in the
winter (many believed they hibernated).

Together with John Hunter, he studied the


hibernation of mammals such as hedgehogs
and dormice. Edward Jenner was probably
the first person to fly a balloon in Britain
Filled with hydrogen and launched from
Berkeley Castle, it travelled 24 miles. A
skilled geologist and fossil-hunter, Jenner
discovered the first Plesiosaurus fossil on
nearby Stinchcombe Hill.

Jenner’s home is now dedicated to the


memory of the man and his work. His study
remains much as it was the day he died in
1823. In its peaceful garden is the thatched
hut where he vaccinated the poor, free of
charge. Grape vines that he planted still crop
heavily.

Microbiologist # 5. Paul Ehrlich:


Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915), an outstanding
German scientist and genius of
extraordinary activity, added a great mass to
our knowledge of medical science, and a

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large number of technical methods he


proposed are now in daily use in
microbiological and chemical laboratories.

1. In 1879, he applied stains to cells and


tissues for the purpose of revealing their
function.

2. In 1882, he reported the acid-fastness of


tubercle bacillus.

3. From 1890-1900 he did important


research in immunology. He soon found that
the specific effect of immune serum could be
demonstrated in vivo and in vitro and
introduced methods of standardizing toxin
and antitoxin. To him goes the credit of
minimum lethal dose.

4. In 1898, he proposed side chain theory of


antibody production.

5. In 1909, he introduced salvarsan, an


arsenical compound, sometimes called the
‘magic bullet’. It was capable of destroying
the spirochaete of syphilis with only
moderate toxic effects. He continued his
experimentation until 1912 when he
announced the discovery of neosalvarsan.
Thus he created a new branch of medicine
known as chemotherapy.

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Microbiologist # 6. Martinus W.
Beijerinck:
Martinus W. Beijerinck (1851-1931) was a
professor at the Delft Polytechnique School
(Holland) in his later years, but was
originally trained in Botany and began his
carrier in Microbiology studying the
microbiology of plants. He was one of the
great general microbiologists who made
fundamental contributions to microbial
ecology and many other fields.

Following are the major contributions


of Beijerinck in the field of
microbiology:

1. Beijerinck’s greatest contribution to the


field of microbiology was perhaps his clear
formulation of the concept of the
enrichment culture. Instead of isolating
microorganisms from nature in a
nonselective fashion, he proposed ‘selecting’
specific microorganisms from a natural
sample through the use of specific culture
media and incubation conditions that
favoured growth of only one type or a
physiologically related group of
microorganisms.

Using his enrichment culture (or “selective


culture”, as he called it) technique,
Beijerinck isolated the first pure culture of

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many soil and aquatic microorganisms,


including aerobic nitrogen fixing bacteria
(Azotobacter), nitrogen fixing root nodule
bacteria (later named Rhizobium), sulphate-
reducing and sulphur-oxidizing bacteria,
Lactobacillus species, green algae, and many
other microorganisms.

2. Beijerinck described the basic tenets of


virology and in rightly called by many as the
founder of virology. From his studies of
tobacco mosaic disease, he confirmed in
1898, using selective filtration technique,
that the tobacco mosaic disease was caused
not by any pathogenic bacteria or toxin
secreted by bacteria (as stated by Ivanowski)
but by some new type of pathogenic agents,
which he called “contagium vivum fluidum”
(infections living fluid) and referred
subsequently to it as a “virus” (poison). He
also said that these infections agents (the
virus) multiply only inside the living cell.
(Dimitri Ivanovski discovered viruses in
1992, but failed to report his findings.)

Microbiologist # 7. Sergei N.
Winogradsky:
Sergei N. Winogradsky (1856-1953), a
Russian microbiologist, made many
contributions to soil microbiology and is
rightly called the founder of soil
microbiology. He had interests similar to

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Beijerinck’s and successfully isolated several


key bacteria for the first time.

Winogradsky lived to be almost 100,


publishing many scientific papers, along
with a major monograph, Microbiologic du
Sol (Soil Microbiology); the latter work, a
true milestone in microbiology, contained
his original drawings of many of the
organisms he had isolated of otherwise
studied in enrichment culture or natural
material during his carrier.

However, the major contributions of


Winogradsky to the field of
microbiology are the following:

1. Winogradsky isolated pure cultures of


nitrifying bacteria and clearly demonstrated
that the process of nitrification (oxidation of
ammonia to nitrate) was the result of
bacterial action.

2. He studied in 1887 the oxidation of H2S


by sulphur oxidizing bacteria directly in
their natural habitats.

3. From his studies of sulphur oxidizing


bacteria, Winogradsky developed the
concept of chemolithotrophy, the oxidation
of inorganic compounds resulting in the
release of energy. He also concluded from
his studies of the nitrifying bacteria that

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these organisms obtained carbon from CO2,


in air, i.e., that they were autotrophs.

Although the concepts of chemolithotrophy


and autotrophy were not readily accepted by
his contemporaries, we know now that the
two processes are extremely important
processes on Earth and can even support the
growth of higher organisms.

4. Winogradsky isolated in 1893 the first


nitrogen fixing bacterium (the anaerobe
Clostridium pasteurianum) using
enrichment culture technique and by so
doing developed the concept of bacterial
nitrogen fixation.

Microbiologist # 8. Dimitri Ivanovski:

Dimitri Ivanovski, a Russian botanist, is


famous for his studies on mosaic disease of
tobacco, a severe disease especially in
Holland and Germany at his time. He was
actively engaged in the investigation of this
disease to find out the nature of the agent
causing it.

Ivanovski repealed the experiments carried


out by Adolf Mayer, and first successfully
experimentally demonstrated that the
tobacco mosaic disease has been caused by
agents which successfully passed the
Chamberland-porcelain filter that retains
even the smallest bacteria.
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He stated that the juice from infected


tobacco plants did not loss infectivity even
after passage through the filtre which, if the
disease was caused by a bacterium, should
have happened.

It was an important clue but, contrary to his


experimental result and despite his inability
to isolate any bacterium, Ivanovski still
maintained that either the pathogenic
bacterium’ somehow passed through the
filter or a ‘toxin’ secreted by it passed
through the filter and made the filtrate
infectious.

Microbiologist # 9. Lazzaro
Spallanzani:

Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799), a forgotten


giant who infact was a true precursor of
modern biology and one of the “founding
fathers” of microbiology, died two centuries
ago.

Although he is a comparatively less known


than other great scientists, many aspects of
our current scientific culture are based in his
inspiration. This Italian, born in Modena in
1729, was a follower of the great naturalist
Antonio Vallisnieri (1661-1730) and
attended lectures by the famous Laura Bassi
(1711-1778).

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Bassi was a full professor at the University of


Bologna in the middle of the eighteenth
century, and was such a extraordinary
woman—who spoke several languages,
possessed an unusual knowledge of
mathematics, physics and natural sciences,
and still had time to bear twelve children—
inspired the scientific vocation of the young
Spallanzani.

Triggered by these stimuli, Spallanzani


became professor of natural history at the
Universities of Modena and Pavia and later a
researcher renowned throughout Europe by
the multiplicity and curiosity of his
observations. Since he was ordained by the
Roman Catholic Church, he is also known by
the nickname of abate Spallanzani.

Following are the significant


contributions of Spallanzani in the
field of science:

1. Spallanzani’s classic studies on the


impossibility of spontaneous generation of
life from dead matter contributed to the
setting up of techniques on sterilization later
perfected by Louis Pasteur. Pasteur,
acknowledging the importance of these
studies, hung Spallanzani’s portrait in one of
the halls of his Institute at Paris.

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2. Furthermore, the versatility of


Spallanzani’s research contributed quite
efficiently to the progress of physiology in
areas as diverse as blood circulation,
breathing and digestion.

3. Among his many scientific achievements,


the most outstanding discoveries are by far
the various contributions included in his
book Experiences to Serve to the History of
the Generation of Animals and Plants, which
was first published in Genova, in Italian, in
1786.

The experiences described in this book arc of


great interest, particularly when analyzed in
the light of modern techniques such as
cloning or in vitro fertilization. Among other
accomplishments, these studies report the
first experimental evidence that ovules are
fertilized by spermatozoa.

4. Spallanzani was able to obtain embryos


which “were born just as if mating had
preceded their life” by means of artificial
fecundations in various animals. On these
bases, he tried to obtain not only hybrid
animals but also imaginary beings, such as
the famous onotauro, an animal supposed to
be the result of breeding between a bull and
a mare or a horse and a cow. He thought
that “Nature always responds to questions
with instructive answers”, hence he
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managed to learn valuable lessons even


when he met with failure.

Spallazani’s scrupulous thoroughness in the


performance of experiments, his wide and
imaginative ability to design them, and his
exquisite precaution to interpret the results
were characteristics of his personality. He
clearly demonstrated traits that are typical
of current scientists rather than of ancient
naturalists.

His method of repeating experiments


several times, for instance, met with serious
criticism among his contemporaries, and
even the famous English surgeon John
Hunter (1728-1793) was of the opinion that
he multiplied unnecessarily the experiments
with no known purpose.

But, such an approach, however, allowed


him to reach conclusions that are still valid
after centuries. However, as scientists in all
ages, Spallanzani was not immune to error.

Prisoner in part of Aristotle’s ideas, he


favored some wrong interpretations of the
pre-formationist theory, which supported
the pre-existence of the embryo before
fertilization and assumed a sole animistic
role for the spermatic fluid. Nevertheless, we
owe to Spallanzani the first studies on

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reproduction which can be considered really


modern.

Microbiologist # 10. Joseph Lister:


Joseph Lister (1827-1912), an English
surgeon, was born at Essex (England) and
died at Walmer (England). He was the son
of a wealthy wine merchant namely, Joseph
Jackson. Lister who developed an
achromatic lens for the microscope. His
parents took a great interest in their son’s
education. They instructed him and sent
him to Quaker schools that imphasized
natural history and science.

At the age 16 his decidea medicines would be


his carrier. Lister graduated from King’s
College, London, and became a house
surgeon at University Hospital in 1852. He
was appointed as assistant to James Symes,
the best surgeon of the day.

He later married Symes’s daughter. Lister


enjoyed a privilege denied many scientific
innovators; he saw his principles accepted
during his lifetime and was honored with the
title of Baronet in 1883.

He was also appointed as one of the twelve


original members of the Order of Merit in
1902. A British Institution of Preventive
Medicine, previously named after Edward
Jenner, was renamed as Lister Institute of
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Preventive Medicine in 1899 in honour of


Lister.

Lister was a humble, religious, and


unassuming man, uninterested in financial
gain or fame. After the death of his wife in
1893, he retired from surgery and al his
death in 1912, was almost completely blind
and deaf.

Following are the real contributions


of Lister:

1. Lister’s discovery of antiseptic treatment


of wounds is outstanding. As a surgeon,
Lister was concerned with the high mortality
rate of post-amputation patient and the high
rate of gangrene after surgery.

Applying the knowledge that bacteria caused


disease, and drawing from Louis Pasteur’s
work that proved the existence of airborne
microorganisms, Lister concluded that
airborne bacteria could cause infection in
surgical wounds.

Lister read about the effect of carbolic acid


used on sewage bacteria in outhouses,
cesspools and stable in the about the effect
of carbolic acid used on sewage bacteria in
outhouses, cesspools and stables in the
nearby town of Carlisle, and developed an
antiseptic system whereby he would spray

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carbolic acid in the operating room, and use


it to sterilize the surgical instrument and his
hand. In addition, he applied the acid and
around the wound, and directly on the
dressings.

Lister first used this method in 1865 while


treating a compound fracture of a leg, an
injury that often claimed about 60% of
patients, and where amputation of a limb
was usually the only treatment. The
procedure was successful. Lister published
his antiseptic method in The Lancet, in
1867. There was one problem carbolic acid,
especially the spray, was harmful to those
who came in contact with it.

However Lister found milder antiseptics and


later heat-sterilized the surgical
instruments. At first, the medical found
community did not support Lister’s theory,
but eventually his antiseptic method gained
recognition and was adopted as standard
procedure for treating wounds and during
surgery.

Medics used Lister’s antiseptic method,


which proved to be effective, during the
Franco-Prussain War (1870-1871). In 1877,
Lister became Professor of Surgery at King’s
College, London.

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2. Besides his discovery of antiseptic


treatment of wounds, Lister’s achievements
in the field of surgical techniques also
deserve mention. During his stay at King’s
College Hospital in London, he became the
second man in England to operate on a
brain tumour. He also developed a method
of repairing ‘kneecaps’ with metal wire and
improved the technique of mastectomy.

3. Lister also studied histology under


William Sharpey during which time, he
wrote an important paper on inflammation
where he discussed the susceptibility to
disease of inflammed tissue.

However some consider Lister “the father of


modern antisepsis”. Listerine mouth-wash is
named after him for his work in antisepsis.
Also named in his honour is the bacterial
genus Listeria, typified by the food-borne
pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.

Microbiologist # 11. Alexander


Fleming:
Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) was born to
a Scottish sheep-family. He excelled in
school and entered St Mary’s Hospital in
London to study medicine. He was a short
man, usually clad in a bow tie, who even in
his celebrity never mastered the conventions
of public society.

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Fleming was a bacteriologist and would have


remained a quiet bacteriologist had
serendipity not come calling that fateful
September in 1928 when he discovered
penicillin, the miracle drug, from the mould
Penicillium notatum. In fact, Fleming was
not even the first to describe the
antibacterial properties of Penicillium.

John Tindall had done so in 1875, E.


Duchesne in 1896 and, likewise, D.A. Gratia
in 1925. However, unlike his predecessors,
Fleming recognized the significance of his
findings. He would later say, “My only merit
is that I did not neglect the observation and
that I pursued the subject as a
bacteriologist”.

The improbable chain of events that led


Alexander Fleming to discover penicillin is
the stuff of which scientific myths are made.
Fleming had been interested in searching
something that would kill pathogens ever
since working on wound infections caused
by staphylococci bacteria. He left a culture
plate smeared with staphylococcus bacteria
on his lab bench while he went on a two-
week holiday.

When he returned, he noticed a clear halo


surrounding the yellow-green growth of a
mould that had accidentally contaminated
the plate. Unknown to him, a spore of a rare
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variant called Penicillium notatum had


drifted in from a mycology lab one floor
below.

Luck would have it that Fleming had


decided not to store his culture in a warm
incubator, and that London was then hit by
a cold spell, giving the mould a chance to
grow.

Later, as the temperature rose, the


staphylococcus bacteria grew like a lawn,
covering the entire plate — except for the
area surrounding the moldy contaminant.
Seeing that halo was Fleming’s “Eureka”
moment, an instant of great personal insight
and deductive reasoning.

He correctly deduced that the mould must


have released a substance that inhibited the
growth of the bacteria. Fleming’s initial
work was reported in the British Journal of
Experimental Pathology.

By 1932, Fleming stopped his work on


penicillin and happily provided other
researchers with samples of his mould.
Fleming’s work remained in relative
obscurity for a decade. In 1939 a specimen
of Fleming’s mould became available to a
team of scientists at Oxford University led
by Howard Florey. This team had technical

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talent, especially in a chemist named Ernst


Boris Chain.

Florey, Chain and their colleagues rapidly


purified penicillin in sufficient quantity and
successfully treated mice that had been
given lethal doses of bacteria.

They also demonstrated in later years that


injections of penicillin caused miraculous
recoveries in patients with a variety of
infections. Pneumonia, syphilis, gonorrhea,
diphtheria, scarlet fever and many other
bacterial infections that once killed patients
suddenly became treatable.

As deaths caused by bacterial infections


plummeted, a grateful world needed a hero
and Fleming become such hero. Fleming
received awards and accolades in rapid
succession, including a Knighthood (with
Florey) in 1944 and the Nobel Prize for
Medicine (with Florey and Chain) in 1945.

When Fleming died of a heart attack in 1955,


he was mourned by the world and burried as
a national hero in the crypt of St. Paul’s
Cathedral in London. Although Fleming’s
scientific findings may not have reached
greatness, his singular contribution, the
discovery of penicillin, changed the practice
of medicine and the course of history.

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