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1700 - 1900: The Miracle of Life and Death Appears Smaller . . . and Smaller

The empirical method and the industrial revolution brought monumental changes to farming and industry, while the biological sciences were inspired by the work of Darwin and Pasteur. The microbial nature of many diseases was established. Mendel toiled in obscurity with his pea plants.


Giacomo Pylarini in Constantiople practiced "inoculation"--intentionally giving children smallpox to prevent a serious case later in life. Inoculation will compete with "vaccination"--an alternative method that uses cowpox rather than smallpox as the protecting treatment--for a century.


Cross-fertilization in corn was discovered.


Turbevill Needham heated various soups or "infusions" all of which eventually teem with life; he concluded "there is a vegetative Force in every microscopical Point of Matter..." in support of the idea of spontaneous generation.


Farmers in Europe increased their cultivation of leguminous crops and began rotating crops to increase yield and land use.


Edward Jenner published his book comparing vaccination (intentionally infecting humans with cowpox to induce resistance to smallpox) to inoculation (intentionally infecting humans with a putatively mild strain of smallpox to induce resistance to severe strain of the disease). He derived his ideas from observing that people who had been exposed to cowpox were not vulnerable to smallpox. (Vaccine comes from the Latin word vaccinus - "from cows.")


Lazaro Spallanzani described ingeniously crafted experiments using "hermetically sealed" flasks heated in boiling water to test the possibility of using heat to kill all the microbes in an "infusion" (liquid growth medium).


Nicolas Appert devised a technique using heat to can and sterilize food, winning a 12,000 franc prize from Napoleon, first offered in 1795.


Recognizing the importance of agricultural diversity, the Tariff Act excluded foreign plants and trees from U.S. import duties.


President John Quincy Adams instructed U.S. consular officers abroad to ship back to the U.S. any plant "as may give promise, under proper cultivation, of flourishing and becoming useful."


The worldwide search for the elusive mammalian egg ended with the first observation of canine eggs.


Congress invested $1,000 in the Congressional Seed Distribution Program, administered by the U.S. Patent Office, to increase the amount of free seeds mailed to anyone requesting them.


Horse drawn harrows, seed drills, corn planters, horse hoes, 2-row cultivators, hay mowers, and rakes became popular in Europe and in the U.S. Industrially processed animal feed and inorganic fertilizer were first introduced.


Ignaz Semmelweis used epidemiological observations to propose the hypothesis that childbed fever can be spread from mother to mother by physicians. He tested the hypothesis by having physicians wash their hands after examining each patient. He became despised by the medical profession and lost his job.


Paris hosted an international "Corn Show," featuring corn varieties from many countries, including Syria, Portugal, Hungary, and Algeria.


Karl Ludwig discovered a technique for keeping animal organs alive outside the body, by pumping blood through them.

In contrast to the ideas of Justis Liebig, Louis Pasteur (1822 - 1895) asserted that microbes are responsible for fermentation. His experiments in the ensuing years proved that fermentation is the result of activity of yeasts and bacteria.


Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882) hypothesized that animal populations adapt their forms over time to best exploit the environment, a process he referred to as "natural selection." As he traveled in the Galapagos Islands, he observed how the finch's beaks on each island were adapted to their food sources. He theorized that only the creatures best suited to their environment survive to reproduce. Darwin also inferred the process of adaptive radiation, wherein populations spread out into the environment to exploit specialized resources.

Charles Darwin's landmark book, "On the Origin of Species," was published in London. It effectively drowned out all other scientific voices, including Mendel's, for decades.


The Organic Act established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - formerly the Division of Agriculture in the Patent Office - and directed its commissioner "to collect new and valuable seeds and plants . . . and to distribute them among agriculturalists."

Also in the US, the Morrill Act established the "land-grant" colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts. Each state is given money raised from the sale of federal lands to start and support the colleges.


Louis Pasteur invented the process of pasteurization, heating wine sufficiently to inactivate microbes (that would otherwise turn the "vin" to "vin aigre" or "sour wine") while at the same time not ruining the flavor of the wine.

Anton de Bary proved that a fungus causes potato blight. A challenge for scientists during this period was to discern whether a microbe was the cause of, or the result of, a disease.


Pasteur theorized that decayed organisms are found as small organized 'corpuscles' or 'germs' in the air.


Gregor Mendel (1822 - 1884), an Augustinian monk, presented his laws of heredity to the Natural Science Society in Brunn, Austria. Mendel proposed that invisible internal units of information account for observable traits, and that these "factors" - which later became known as genes - are passed from one generation to the next. Mendel's work remained unnoticed, languishing in the shadow of Darwin's more sensational publication from five years earlier, until 1900, when Hugo de Vries, Erich Von Tschermak, and Carl Correns published research corroborating Mendel's mechanism of heredity.

Pasteur investigated silkworm disease and established that diseases can be transmitted from one animal to another.

Joseph Lister began using disinfectants such as phenol (=carbolic acid) in wound care and surgery as Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease.


Davaine used heat treatment to cure a plant of bacterial infection.

Fredrich Miescher, a Swiss biologist, successfully isolated nuclein, a compound that includes nucleic acid, from pus cells obtained from discarded bandages. Meischer, however, was not investigating heredity. Instead, he was trying to identify the chemicals in cells. Several generations of scientists would pass before the connection would be made between the DNA found by Miescher and the laws of heredity described by Mendel just three years previously.


W. Flemming discovered mitosis.


DNA was isolated from the sperm of trout found in the Rhine River.

Darwin published "The Descent of Man and Selection Relation to Sex" applying his ideas of evolution to the origins of humans.

Ernst Hoppe-Seyler discovered invertase, an enzyme that cuts the disaccharide sucrose into glucose and fructose. The enzyme is still widely used today in making sweeteners.


Robert Koch investigated anthrax and developed techniques to view, grow, and stain organisms. He then photographed them, aided by Gram, Cohn, and Weigart.


Charles Darwin proposed the idea of "gemmules" as a mechanism of inheritance.


Joseph Lister described the "most probable number" technique, the first method for the isolation of pure cultures of bacteria, an important step in understanding infectious diseases.

Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that weeds were actually plants "whose virtues have not yet been discovered."


In Michigan, Darwin-devotee William James Beal developed the first clinically controlled crosses of corn in search of colossal yields.

Albrecht Kossel began his studies of nuclein, leading to his discovery of nucleic acids.


Studying fowl cholera, Pasteur published his work on "attenuated" or weakened strains of organisms that could not cause disease but protected against severe forms of the same disease.

The power of the steam engine was harnessed to drive combine harvesters.


Robert Koch described bacterial colonies growing on potato slices, on gelatin medium, and on agar medium. Nutrient agar became a standard tool for obtaining pure cultures and for identifying genetic mutants. This is considered by T.D. Brock to be the single most important discovery in the rise of microbiology.

Pasteur used attenuation to develop vaccines against the bacterial pathogens of fowl cholera and anthrax; this was a founding moment in immunology and opened new areas in the field of preventive medicine.


Walther Flemming reported his discovery of chromosomes and mitosis.

Robert Koch, using guinea pigs as an alternative host, described the bacterium that causes tuberculosis in humans. Koch became the first to uncover the cause of a human microbial disease. He established that specific diseases are caused by specific organisms.

Ilya Metchnikoff observed phagocytes surrounding microorganisms in starfish larvae. Later, he developed a cell theory to explain the action of vaccines.

A Swiss botanist, Alphonse de Candolle, recorded the first extensive study on the origins and history of cultivated plants. His work later played a significant role in J. J. Vavilos' mapping of the world's centers of diversity.


August Weismann, a German physiologist, coined the term "germ-plasm." He asserted in his book of the same name that the male and female parent contribute equally to the heredity of the offspring; that sexual reproduction thus generates new combinations of hereditary factors; and that the chromosomes must be the bearers of heredity. His books were translated promptly into French and English.

Francis Galton coined the term "eugenics" referring to the science of improving the human condition through "judicious matings."


Robert Koch stated his "postulates" for testing whether a microbe is the causal agent of a disease.

Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine.

Christian Gram described the differential staining technique for bacteria known as the Gram stain.

Gregor Mendel died after 41 years of meticulously studying the heredity "factors" of pea plants. Having received no scientific acclaim during his lifetime, he said not long before his death, "My time will come."


The first human trials of Pasteur's rabies vaccine took place.


Koch, Petri, Loffler, Yersin, and Erlich identified a host of human disease-causing organisms.

Emil von Behring developed the first antitoxin, for diptheria.


J.C. Arthur demonstrated that pear fire blight is a bacterial disease.


Edouard-Joseph-Louis-Marie van Beneden discovered that each species has a fixed number of chromosomes; he also discovered the formation of haploid cells during cell division of sperm and ova (meiosis).

R.J. Petri described the circular glass plates with overlapping glass lids for growing microbes on nutrient agar. Petri plates are still standard tools of the microbiologist.

The Pasteur Institute was opened in Paris.


Ivanovsky reported that the causal agent of the tobacco mosaic disease is transmissible and can pass through filters that trap the smallest bacteria. Such agents are later called "filterable viruses" or just "viruses."

The self-propelled tractor was introduced.


Researchers at the Lister Institute isolated the diphtheria antitoxin.


Winogradski demonstrated nitrogen fixation in the absence of oxygen by Clostridia bacteria.


Wilhelm Kolle, a German bacteriologist, developed cholera and typhoid vaccines.

E.B. Wilson elaborated on August Weismann's chromosome theory of heredity.


Eduard Buchner demonstrated that fermentation can occur with an extract of yeast in the absence of intact yeast cells. This is a founding moment in biochemistry and enzymology.

Friedrich Loeffler and P. Frosch reported that the pathogen of the foot-and-mouth disease of cattle is so small it passes through filters that trap the smallest bacteria; such pathogens came to be known as "filterable viruses."

Ronald Ross discovered Plasmodium, the protozoan that causes malaria, in the Anopheles mosquito and showed the mosquito transmits the disease agent from one person to another.


Beijerinck's research on tobacco mosaic disease confirmed the work of Ivanovsky. Beijerinck proposed that the virus becomes incorporated into the protoplasm of the host plant.


Walter Reed established that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, the first time a human disease was shown to be caused by a virus.

Compiled from various sources, including:

Brock, Thomas D. 1961. Milestones in Microbiology. Science Tech Publishers. Madison, Wisconsin. Pp. 273.

Brock, Thomas D. 1990. The Emergence of Bacterial Genetics. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Pp. 346.

Bunch, Bryan and Hellemans, Alexander. 1993. The Timetables of Technology. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. Pp. 490.

Hellemans, Alexander, and Bunch, Bryan. 1988. The Timetables of Science. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. Pp. 660.

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