Biography of Robert Koch – Founder of Modern Bacteriology

NicknameFather of Modern Bacteriology
BornDecember 11, 1843 in Clausthal, Germany
DiedMay 27, 1910 in Baden-Baden, Germany
ParentsHermann Koch and Mathilde Julie Henriette Biewand
EducationUniversity of Göttingen (M.D.)
Published WorksInvestigations into the Etiology of Traumatic Infective Diseases (1877)
Key AccomplishmentsNobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (1905)
Spouse(s)Emmy Fraatz (m. 1867–1893), Hedwig Freiberg (m. 1893–1910)
ChildGertrude Koch

The German doctor Robert Koch (December 11, 1843 – May 27 1909) is regarded as the pioneer of modern bacteriology due to his research that proved that certain microbes are responsible for the development of specific illnesses. Koch identified that the cycle of life for anthrax bacteria and discovered the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis as well as the cholera.

Early Years

Robert Heinrich Hermann Koch was born on December 11, 1843. He was from Clausthal, a German city of Clausthal. The parents of his father, Hermann Koch and Mathilde Julie Henriette Biewand had 13 children. Robert Koch was the third son and was the oldest of the remaining sons. As a youngster, Koch demonstrated a love of nature and displayed an impressive level of intelligence. Koch was reportedly taught to read by the age of five.

Koch was interested in biology at the age of high school. He enrolled at into the University of Gottingen in 1862 which was where he pursued a degree in medicine. While at the medical college, Koch had a profound influence on his anatomy teacher Jacob Henle, who had published a paper in 1840 claiming that microorganisms were responsible for the spread of infectious diseases.

Career and Research

When he received his medical doctorate with distinction in his school, the University of Gottingen in 1866, Koch practiced privately for some time at the local hospital of Langenhagen and then in Rakwitz. When 1870 came around, Koch decided to join the German military during the Franco-Prussian War. Koch worked as a physician in a battlefield hospital , treating wounded soldiers.

A few years later, Koch became the District Medical Officer for the city of Wollstein. The position he held between 1872 and 1880. Koch was later promoted as the head of an official position in the Imperial Health Office in Berlin which he served in between 1880 and 1885. In the years between Wollstein in the city of Wollstein and Berlin, Koch began his lab investigations into pathogens caused by bacteria that would lead to international and national recognition.

Anthrax Life Cycle Discovery

Robert Koch’s research on anthrax is among the first studies to show that an infectious disease was the result of a particular microbe. Koch learned from the most renowned scientific researchers of his day including Jacob Henle, Louis Pasteur as well as Casimir Joseph Davaine. The work of Davaine showed that animals suffering from anthrax had microbes present within their blood. When healthy animals were injected using the blood samples of animals infected with anthrax and the healthy animals developed sick. Davaine suggested that anthrax may be the result of blood microbes.

Robert Koch took this investigation further by collecting pure anthrax strains and discovering spores of bacterial origin (also known as endospores). These cells are resistant to infection and can live for years in harsh conditions, such as extreme temperatures, dryness, or the presence of harmful chemicals or enzymes. The spores stay inactive until the conditions are suitable for them to transform into plant-like (actively developing) cells that can cause illness. Through Koch’s work the life cycle of the anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) was discovered.

Laboratory Research Techniques

Robert Koch’s research led him to the creation and refinement of several laboratory techniques that are being used to this day.

To allow Koch to acquire authentic bacterial strains for research and research, he needed the right medium to develop the microbes. Koch developed a method of changing a liquid (culture broth) into solid media using the agar. The Agar gel medium was perfect for the cultivation of pure cultures since it was transparentand was solid at the body temperature (37degC or 98.6degF) and the bacteria didn’t use it as a source of food. A colleague at Koch, Julius Petri, invented a special dish called a Petri dish to hold the growth medium that was solid.

Furthermore, Koch refined techniques for creating bacteria suitable for microscope viewing. Koch developed slide slides made of glass and coverslips and techniques for fixing heat and staining bacteria using dyes to increase the clarity. He also invented methods to use steam sterilization as well as methods for taking pictures (micro-photography) bacteria as well as other microbes.

Koch’s Postulates

Koch released Investigations into the Etiology of Traumatic Infective Diseases in 1877. In the book, he described methods for obtaining pure culture and methods to isolate bacteria. Koch also created guidelines or postulates for the determination that a specific disease is the result of a specific microbe. These postulates were created during the study of anthrax by Koch and set forth four fundamental principles to consider when determining the causal agent for any infectious illness:

  • The microbe that is suspected should be detected in all cases of the disease but not in healthy animals.
  • The suspected microbe must be isolated from an infected animal and then grown in a pure culture.
  • When a healthy animal gets infected by the suspected microbe and the microbe is identified, the illness will develop.
  • The microbe needs to be removed from the inoculated animal and grown in a an environment that is pure, as well as exactly like the one taken from the animal that was infected with the disease.

Tuberculosis and Cholera Bacteria Identification

In in 1881 Koch began setting goal of discovering the microbe that was responsible for the deadly disease tuberculosis. While other researchers were capable of proving that tuberculosis is caused by microorganisms, no one could stain or detect the microbe. Utilizing modified staining methods, Koch was able to determine and isolate the bacteria responsible for the disease: Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Koch made the announcement of that he had discovered the subject in March 1882 in the Berlin Psychological Society. The news of the discovery quickly spread throughout all over the United States by April of 1882. The discovery earned Koch worldwide fame and recognition.

In the following year, when he was appointed chief of the German Cholera Commission in 1883, Koch began investigating cholera outbreaks in Egypt and India. In 1884, he had identified and identified the causative cause for cholera, Vibrio. Koch also came up with ways to control cholera epidemics which serve as the foundation for the current methods of controlling.

The year was 1890. Koch said he discovered an effective treatment for tuberculosis an ingredient he named tuberculin. Even though tuberculin did not prove to be an effective cure, Koch’s work in tuberculosis was recognized as a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1905.

Death and Legacy

Robert Koch continued his investigative study of diseases that are infectious until his health started to decline in his mid-sixties. Just a few years prior to the time of his passing, Koch had a heart attack that was caused through heart diseases. In the month of May in 1910 Robert Koch died in Baden-Baden, Germany at the age of 66.

Robert Koch’s contributions to microbiology as well as the field of bacteriology have had an enormous impact on current research methods and the study of diseases that are infectious. His work contributed to the development of that germ theories are the basis of illness as well as to disprove the notion of spontaneous generation. Koch’s methods for sanitation in the laboratory are the basis of modern-day methods of the identification of microbes and for controlling disease.


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