Founding father of bacteriology and microbiology
Moving up the ladder
From country doctor to head of the Imperial Health Department in Berlin
He devoted his entire life to researching pathogens and their prevention: Robert Koch is rightly considered a pioneer of medicine. Koch achieved global fame through his research into the development and transmission of anthrax, tuberculosis, cholera, plague, malaria, sleeping sickness and bovine plague. His findings saved the lives of millions of people - to this day.
As late as the middle of the 19th century, physicians assumed that "miasmas", toxic vapours from the soil, were responsible for the spread of diseases and epidemics. A simple country doctor in Wollstein/Posen was to prove them wrong.
Achievements and discoveries
Development of scientific methods
In his makeshift home laboratory, the hard-working Robert Koch devoted himself to researching the anthrax pathogen. His discoveries and technical innovations led the way in isolating pathogens and making them visible. The discovery of pure cultures and the development of scientific examination methods made the targeted cultivation of bacterial colonies in culture media possible in the first place.1
Koch used special culture media and staining techniques with which he was able to detect the rod-coloured anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) in 1876. By inoculation, he succeeded in transferring the pathogen to other test animals and isolating it again. A revolutionary discovery with which he proved that a microorganism could be the trigger for infectious diseases.2 Robert Koch's discovery caused a great sensation. The scientist also developed microphotography in 1877.
Koch gained further recognition among experts for his research results on wound infections, which he published in 1878 in the book "Über die Aetiologie der Wundinfectionskrankheiten" (On the etiology of wound infections). In 1880, the scientist moved to the Imperial Health Department in Berlin, where he further developed bacteriological methodology: Koch refined the cultivation of bacterial cultures using special culture media and staining techniques and also developed the basics of disinfection and sterilisation.
Thanks to the further developed methods, Robert Koch was able to detect and isolate the tubercle bacillus (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in 1882. This groundbreaking discovery, which he presented in his famous lecture on the "Aetiology of Tuberculosis" to the Berlin Physiological Society, made him world famous overnight.3
Significance for infection prevention today
Introduction of hygiene measures
Did you know?
The Robert Koch Institute
1 Robert Koch-Institut. 1901 bis 1910: Erregern auf der Spur. https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Institut/Geschichte/Bildband_Salon/1901-1910.html (accessed 16.07.2021)
2 Ärzteblatt. Robert Koch (1843–1910): Begründer einer neuen Wissenschaft. https://www.aerzteblatt.de/archiv/75471/Robert-Koch-(1843-1910)-Begruender-einer-neuen-Wissenschaft (accessed 16.07.2021)
3 Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Mikroben schachmatt gesetzt – Forscher rüsten Tuberkulose-Impfstoff nach. https://www.mpg.de/1248244/BIOMAX_19 (accessed 16.07.2021)
4 Koch R. (1882). Die Ätiologie der Tuberkulose, 1912 (1882). S. 442. https://edoc.rki.de/bitstream/handle/176904/5163/428-445.pdf (accessed 16.07.2021)
5 Robert Koch-Institut. Robert Koch: Der Mitbegründer der Mikrobiologie. https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Institut/Geschichte/robert_koch_node.html (accessed 16.07.2021)
6 Dieterich E. (1919). Desnfizieren und Desinfektionsmittel. In: Dieterich K. (eds) Neues Pharmazeutisches Manual. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-662-36423-9_25 (accessed 16.07.2021)