History of bacterial discovery
In the 17th century found one of the greatest enemies of the human body: bacteria. This discovery ultimately makes people aware that exposure to certain microorganisms can cause disease. This discovery also underlies a new theory of antiseptics that dramatically succeeded in suppressing surgical death rates.
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a part-time guard and cloth seller working in Delft, the Netherlands, discovered bacteria and other microorganisms using a microscope he developed himself.
Through the influence of his friend, a Dutch doctor, he was asked to write a letter to the Royal Society in London, an association dedicated to the advancement of science. This letter is translated from Dutch to English and published in the journal Philosophical Transactions.
Leeuwenhoek’s most famous letter was published on 16 March 1677. In the letter, he described his vision to a drop of rainwater through a microscope.
The water is taken from a container where the water has been stagnant for several days. Surprisingly, he saw a very small animal, now known as protozoa, swimming in the water. He also observes other animals that do not move at all, which is now called bacteria.
No one in the Royal Society knows about these little animals, which Leeuwenhoek calls animalcules. At the request of members of the Royal Society, some of Delft’s most respected residents were asked to verify Leeuwenhoek’s findings. They justified it, and in 1680, Leeuwenhoek was elected a member of the Royal Society.
Further discoveries attest to the importance of Leeuwenhoek’s work, especially the great findings of German scientist Robert Koch in 1876. Koch discovered that anthrax bacillus bacteria can cause serious illness in humans.
Prior to Koch’s discovery, many scientists doubted that microscopic creatures could harm far larger animals as well as humans. In 1882, Koch showed that another type of bacterium, tubercle bacillus, caused tuberculosis, the discovery that won him the Nobel Prize in 1905.
Unlike Koch who was a physician when he discovered his findings, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, and biologist, hates doctors very much. Therefore, he does not hire a doctor in his laboratory. Even so, he is very interested in various diseases.
Pasteur found that decay is caused by microorganisms that float in water. Pasteur learns that he can prevent the process of decomposition by heating the organic substance at a moderate temperature, a process known as pasteurization.
In 1865, Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, read Pasteur’s research on decay. Lister also recalled that if mild fractures are almost always curable, it is not so with compound fractures that will almost always rot. Lister is convinced that this dangerous infection process is caused by the evil microorganisms that Pasteur has described.
To test the theory, Lister closed the wounds of his patients who had compound fractures, previously exposed to the air, with the cotton cloth soaked into carbolic acid/phenol. He believes that carbolic acid can kill airborne microorganisms.
Lister treated compound fractures and open surgical wounds with carbolic acid for 9 months and he observed that there was no infection in his surgical patients. His research, published in 1867, led to the birth of an antiseptic for surgery.
Although the antiseptic technique of Lister was initially opposed by other doctors, it was rapidly widespread and accepted by many, who eventually drastically reduced mortality from infections in the operating room.