BRIEF HISTORY OF MICROBIOLOGY

Historical Perspectives of Microbiology exposes the reader to the different contributors to the field of microbiology. Microbiology as a field in the biological sciences saw the light of the day because of several innovative research and experiments by pioneers in this field. The serendipitous discoveries and scientific inventions and breakthroughs of these notable microbiologists/scientists contributed immensely to making the subject/study of microbiology what it is today. The contributions and experiments carried out by these researchers are highlighted. The study of microbiology will be incomplete without a touch on the founding fathers of this important field of biological sciences.

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Several scientists/microbiologists in time past contributed tremendously to the development of microbiology; and the notable works of these famous microbiologists in time past have continued to impact and give impetus to the modern day microbiology that we now have at our hands. Though research all over the world is now going molecular and high-tech, it will be a disservice not to mention and elaborate on the serendipitous and innovative works and inventions of these legendary microbiologists whose research works and scientific findings have helped the field of microbiology to blossom to what it is today. The readers shall be acquainted with these legendary microbiologists and how their independent research works and discoveries impacted the study of microbiology and other biomedical, medical, health, environmental, pharmaceutical and biological sciences as well.

Microorganisms are ancient forms of life that are by and large too small to be seen with the naked eyes. The field of microbiology is exclusively dedicated to the studying and harnessing of these small forms of life which have immense impact on practically every spheres of life including plants, animals, humans and even the inanimate aspect of the earth. Microbiology which is both an applied and basic biological science demonstrates in every respect the fundamental principles that align the biological discipline, thus making it the foundation and a center-piece of the biological sciences. The study of microbiology cum microbes actually began and gained prominence with the discovery of the microscope, a metallic piece of instrument which is used to see microorganisms (invisible forms of life).

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was actually the first to use the microscope to view the unseen forms of life (particularly the fruiting bodies of moulds), making him the first to describe microorganisms. Hooke as shall be seen later in this section reported seeing plant and fungal structures under his crude compound microscope whose lenses were unable to view bacteria. His observations were drawn and recorded in his famous book titled Micrographia. However, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)who is widely regarded as the father of the field of microbiology, was actually the first microbiologist to see and describe bacteria. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is the father of microbiology because he was the first microbiologist to experiment on microscopic organisms (for example, bacteria). Therefore, the development of microbiology as a biological science depended on the availability of the microscopes in addition to the ability of microbiologists to isolate and grow pure forms or cultures of microorganisms in vitro and in vivo.

There is plethora of microscopes today ranging from simple light microscopes to even complex electron microscopes that give better perspectives about the microbial world. These pieces of equipment allow microbiologists to gain better understanding of microbial cells at the cellular and molecular level. Several microbiologists including but not limited to John Needham (who contributed to the theory of spontaneous generation), Nicolas Appert (father of canning and discoverer of appertization), Francesco Redi (who contributed to the theory of spontaneous generation), Edward Jenner (who discovered vaccination), Alexander Fleming (who discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin), Elie Metchnikoff (who coined the word phagocytosis), Louis Pasteur (who discovered pasteurization), Dmitri Ivanovsky (who contributed to the field of virology), John Tyndall (who discovered tyndallization), Paul Ehrlich (who discovered antimicrobial agents), Hans Christian Joachim Gram (who discovered Gram Staining technique), Joseph Lister (who contributed to the principles of antisepsis during surgery) and Robert Koch (who formulated Koch’s postulate of disease) contributed tremendously to the development of the field of microbiology through their many inventions and discoveries.

The advances in the field of microbiology today is centered on the serendipitous discovery of many pioneer microbiologists who in time past made numerous contributions that scientists after them built upon as aforesaid. Each discovery and invention in the field of microbiology by notable microbiologists has helped to broaden our understanding of the microbial life as well as the economic and medical importance of microorganisms to man and his environment.

Our understanding of the microbial world is a continuum in view of the fact that new species and strains of microorganisms are being discovered; some old diseases are now re-emerging, and some emerging diseases require novel strategies to be able to contain their new nefarious activities. However, novel drugs and vaccines are being discovered; and microbiologists are now more proactive in tackling the untoward effects of microorganisms especially as it has to do with their ability in causing diseases or infection. The beneficial potentials of microorganisms are also harnessed by man to solving some societal problems. Thus, it is critical to acquaint ourselves about some notable discoveries in the field of microbiology. It is also important to know the inventors or discoverers and the solid foundation they have laid in making this important aspect of the biological and medical sciences, to see the light of the day.

Further reading

Brooks G.F., Butel J.S and Morse S.A (2004). Medical Microbiology, 23rd edition. McGraw Hill Publishers. USA. Pp. 248-260.

Madigan M.T., Martinko J.M., Dunlap P.V and Clark D.P (2009). Brock Biology of microorganisms. 12th edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings Publishers. USA. Pp.795-796.

Nester E.W, Anderson D.G, Roberts C.E and Nester M.T (2009). Microbiology: A Human Perspective. Sixth edition. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, New York, USA.

Prescott L.M., Harley J.P and Klein D.A (2005). Microbiology. 6th ed. McGraw Hill Publishers, USA. Pp. 296-299.

Singleton P and Sainsbury D (1995). Dictionary of microbiology and molecular biology, 3d ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Slonczewski J.L, Foster J.W and Gillen K.M (2011). Microbiology: An Evolving Science. Second edition. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, New York, USA.

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