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  • 12/18/2004

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch



December 11,1843 -May 27,1910)

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch (December 11,1843 -May 27,1910) was a German physician. He became famous for the discovery of thetubercle bacillus (1882) and thecholerabacillus (1883) and for his development ofKoch's postulates. He was awarded theNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in1905. He is considered one of the founders ofbacteriology.

Robert Koch was born inClausthal,Germany as the son of a mining official. He studied medicine underJacob Henle at theUniversity of Göttingen and graduated in 1866. He then served in theFranco-Prussian War and later became district medical officer in Wollstein. Working with very limited resources, he became one of the founders ofbacteriology, the other beingLouis Pasteur.

After Casimir Davaine showed the direct transmission of theanthrax bacillus between cows, Koch studied anthrax more closely. He invented methods to purify the bacillus from blood samples and grow pure cultures. He found that, while it could not survive outside a host for long, anthrax built persisting spores that could last a long time. These spores, embedded in soil, were the cause of unexplained "spontaneous" outbreaks of anthrax. Koch published his findings in 1876, and was rewarded with a job at the Imperial Health Office inBerlin in 1880.

InBerlin, he improved the methods he used in Wollstein, including staining and purification techniques, and bacterial growth media, includingagar plates and the Petri dish (named after J.R. Petri), both of which are still used today. With these techniques, he was able to discover the bacterium causingtuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in1882 (he announced the discovery onMarch 24). Tuberculosis was the cause of one in seven deaths in the mid-19th century. The importance of his findings raised Koch to the level ofLouis Pasteur in bacteriological research.

In 1883, Koch worked with a French research team inAlexandria,Egypt, studyingcholera. Koch identified thevibrio bacterium that caused cholera, though he never managed to prove it in experiments. In 1885, he became professor forhygiene at theuniversity of Berlin, and later, in 1891, director of the newly formedInstitute of Infectious Diseases, a position which he resigned from in 1904. He started traveling around the world, studying diseases inSouth Africa,India, andJava.

Probably as important as his work on tuberculosis, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize, areKoch's postulates, which say thatto establish that an organism is the cause of adisease, it must be:

found in all cases of the disease examined

prepared and maintained in a pureculture

capable of producing the originalinfection, even after several generations in culture

could be retrieved from an inoculated animal and cultured again.

But after his success the quality of his own research declined (especially with the fiasco over his ineffective TB cure 'tuberculin'), although his pupils using his methods found the organisms responsible fordiphtheria,typhoid,pneumonia,gonorrhoea, cerebrospinalmeningitis, leprosy,bubonic plague,tetanus, andsyphilis among others.

He died inBaden-Baden,Germany.

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