Robert Koch – Get To Know About The Founder of Modern Bacteriology

Who is Robert Koch?

Who is Robert-Koch

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch was a physician and a German biologist. He was the pioneer for discovering the causal patter for Cholera, Anthrax, and Tuberculosis (TB) and remains as the Father of Modern Bacteriology. He gave so many key discoveries for the purpose of humankind and also he has done a few important experiments on human subjects and animals for studying the effects and process of infectious diseases.  

Public Health has seen great success from the essential postulates that he pioneered. This introduction of the 4 postulates that interlinks a disease with a microorganism remains as a ‘gold standard’ for microbiology forever. Even in today’s generation, Robert Koch’s methodology of microscopy and his vernacular from the postulates of public health is followed and guided by many worldwide.  From disinfection to serialization, every step of bacteriology has been vividly explained and chaptered by Robert Koch. 


 Early Life And Career of Robert Koch


Robert Koch was born in a North-west town in Germany called Clausthal on December 11th of 1843. His father was Hermann Koch (1814–1877) and his mother was Mathilde Julie Henriette (née Biewend; 1818–1871). He had an excellent knowledge of studies from his very young age of schooling. Notably, before joining a school in 1848, Robert Koch had learnt to read and write information on his own. 


He was the 3rd son from a total of 13 siblings. Robert Koch used to travel the countryside with this uncle, where he started to develop a keen interest and liking for nature. He studied medicine at the University of Göttingen but was fascinated by the subjective part of natural science, which he late dominated for his professional life. As a student, he had won a research prize for neuronal innervation of the uterus. This research ultimately led him to travel and meet Rudolf Virchow, Germany’s famous physician of that time in Hanover.  He then finally graduated in MD from University Cum Extrema Lauda in 1866.


Robert Koch married Emma (Emmy) Adolfine Josephine Fraatz in 1867, just a year passing his graduation with the highest credits and merits. 14 months later- he had his only child Gertrud and was also gifted with a microscope from his beloved wife. His marriage had come to an end after 26 years in the year 1893 and again in the respective year, he met with actress Hedwig Freiberg and married her.


In 1867 Robert Koch had settled himself after his period serving as an Assistant in the General Hospital at Hamburg, for general practice, first at Langenhagen and later, in the year 1869, at Rackwitz which is present in the Province of Posen. Here, he conceded his District Medical Officer’s Examination. In the year 1870, Robert Koch had volunteered to do service the men of the Franco-Prussian war.  From the years of 1872 to 1880, he was a District Medical Officer for Wollstein in Modern-day Poland. It was at this time where he began the epoch-making researches that forwarded him one step ahead among the scientific workers. He then established his clinical practise in his own. This was a time where the ‘germ theory’ in bacteriology was profoundly talked about and also there was uncertainty in the role of a bacterium in causing disease. 


Robert Koch’s Discoveries on Bacteria 


Anthrax was prevalent among Wollstein’s farm animals. Robert Koch thought of studying about this disease, even though he had cut his contact from other scientists and even the books from the library; he didn’t even have a medical or scientific instrument to proceed. However, he started with experimentation from his 4-walled room which was both his laboratory and his house. 


The anthrax bacillus was given credits of discovery by Pollender, Rayer and Davaine; Robert Koch had immunized mice, by means of home-made slivers of wood, with the anthrax bacilli derived directly from the spleens of farm animals which had all suffered and died from anthrax disease. He thus found that these mice were actually getting killed by the bacilli itself, and whereas the mouse which was beforehand inoculated at the same time with blood from the spleens taken from some healthy animals had not suffered any issues from the disease, thus proving what other did was right- diseases get transmitted through blood of animals, that are suffering from anthrax.  He was yet not satisfied with the result as he wanted to know how the anthrax bacilli, without any contact with an animal can spread the disease to others. 


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Further researching by having a culture of the bacteria to be grown on the aqueous humour of an ox’s eye, Robert Koch photographed, dry-oxidised and dyed stains on culture, and deeply studied about it. He then observed that the bacteria lives and thrives and can restore itself, only when the conditions are favourable to it. The bacteria can produce rounded spores inside on its own, which in the absence of oxygen can even resist itself from any adverse conditions.  Thus he interpreted that even though the bacterium is not in contact with any animal, it can surely cause anthrax in others. Robert Koch later became a famous personality after his demonstration of this experiment to Ferdinand Cohn, Professor of Botany at the University of Breslau and some of his colleagues, who also had Professor Cohnheim, Professor of Pathological Anatomy in the group.


Robert Koch is also known for his attempt in growing bacteria. He started this by using solid nutrients such as potato slices. From this small start, Robert Koch observed a few individual colonies of identical, pure cells of the bacterium. He later initiated that the potato slices were not suitable as a media for all the organisms present, and again, later he began to use nutrient solutions with gelatine in it. However, he realized that gelatine was similar to the previous work on potato slices and was not an optimal medium for bacterial growth, since was not remaining in the solid state at 37 °C (the ideal temperature for growth of most human pathogens). Suggestions from Walther and Fanny Hesse, Robert Koch started to utilize agar for growing and isolating the pure cultures and because this polysaccharide remains solid at the required temperature of 37 °C, it did not degrade most of the bacteria and thus resulted in a transparent medium. 


When Robert Koch served as a government adviser to the Imperial Department of Health in Berlin in 1880, he was interested in researching about tuberculosis (TB), which was widely seen as an inherited disease. Typically, he had an idea that a bacterium was the causation and did experiments based upon his 4 scientific postulates using guinea pigs.  In 1882, he successfully published his finding which was correlating with his postulates discovered. Robert Koch termed the causative agent of TB as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Due to some composition failure, tuberculin-the treatment for TB stated by Robert Koch was not accepted at that time. But today, this substance is useful inside physicians’ rooms for using it in the diagnosis of TB. 


In the hopes for isolation of the disease, Egypt saw the results of Robert Koch’s researches on Cholera. Unfortunately, he couldn’t; come with any solution, before the epidemic ended in that place. He later moved to Bombay in India, in the year 1884, for researching further on cholera in the Grant Medical College, which was then termed in Kolkata, formerly known Calcutta in undivided British India. He discovered the causative agent as Vibrio cholera. It was to be noted here that the agent was already discovered in the year 1854 by an Italian anatomist named Filippo Pacini, who had failed in knowing about its structure and accurate nature of it. 


When Robert Koch came to visit an expedition in Germany’s New Guinea on December 26th, 1900, he started to observe the process of acquired immunity. He observed the Papuan people, the most indigenous group of that place. It was found out that, the blood of the people had Plasmodium parasites, which caused malaria, but with their bouts of malaria were only milder or couldn’t be noticed and was subclinical in nature. Later on, Chinese workers who came to the place fell sick quickly but with later presence in the nation, everyone started to develop a resistance to it.



Institute of Robert Koch 


There is a special initiative taken in the name of Robert Koch which is located in Berlin and Wernigerode. This is named ‘Robert Koch Institute’ abbreviated as RKI. This is a German’s federal government organization and also a research institute which is primarily responsible for disease control and prevention. The organization took its foundation from the year 1891 and is named in honour of its founder, the father of modern bacteriology and Nobel laureate Robert Koch. They have about 1100 members and out of which, were about 450 individuals as actual scientists. 


Executing its functions as an upper federal agency, this remains as a subordinate in accordance with the Federal Ministry of Health. The foundation has its core policies as detection and prevention along with combatting of possible infectious diseases and -also the non-communicable ones prevalent in Germany. The staffs of RKI are highly skilled and trained for getting into action when times of emergency case in the nation. BSL-4 or the highest Biosafety level which is a type of laboratory for storage of highly toxic dangerous biological agents in it and Robert Koch Institute is the only place in Germany that has measures pertaining to human medicine.


Four Primary Postulates of Robert Koch 


Robert Koch is highly famous around the world for his discovering of his four significant postulates which were also a backbone for his Tuberculosis experimentation’s success. These four postulates also called as ‘Henle-Koch postulates,’ are the main steps that are summarized from the reports given by him, on the importance of having a pure culture in the isolation of disease-causing agents. These 4 vital and orderly steps are given below:

  1. The organism should always be present, in every case of a disease.
  2. The organism is to be isolated from a host which contains the disease and is grown separately in pure culture.
  3. Samples of the organism, taken from the pure culture should necessarily cause the same disease when inoculated into some healthy and susceptible animal inside the laboratory.
  4. The organism is to be isolated from the inoculated species and must be recognized with the matching original organism that was first isolated from the initially-diseased host.



Awards and Recognitions


From his scientific discoveries and contribution to bacteriology, Robert Koch has won several recognitions and accolades on behalf of his amazing inputs given to the whole world. Robert Koch was elected as one of the fellows for the Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in the year 1897. For his work on Tuberculosis, he won a Nobel Prize in the year 1905 in physiology and medicine. 


Two years later, his researches on Tuberculosis and on tropical diseases gave him the award of Prussian Order Pour le Merite. From 1908, it has been started as a ritual to honour the best physicians present for their discoveries by the award as ‘Robert Koch Medal.’ Featured on the frieze of the famous London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is the name of Robert Koch who is one among the 23 renowned people of the building in Keppel Street of Bloomsbury. 


Later years of Robert Koch


On 9th May of 1910, he had a heart attack which couldn’t recover him completely. Dr. Koch passed away on May 27th in the year 1910 in Baden-Baden of the German Empire. This was 3 days after his lecture about his own tuberculosis research in the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He was 66 when he expired. Still, his discoveries and inventions can never leave this earth and are helping pave ways for new researches in the medical field today.  


Amazing Facts To Know About Robert Koch 


  • Robert Koch started to read proficiently from a very young age of 5, on his own.


  • The introduction of sanitary water supplies was from the inspiration of Robert Koch’s cholera work which also won him 100,000 Deutsche marks.


  • Leprosy, Rinderpest, Bubonic Plague, and Texas fever are also the names of diseases that were actually studied by Robert Koch from the years of 1891 to 1899.


  • The popular Koch crate satellite is named in honour of the father of Bacteriology.


  • Robert Koch has literally travelled to almost all the important nations of the world.


  •  Robert Koch Institute is also the place of preservation of his lecture manuscripts, 1500 letters, awards, research journals, photographs, publications, and prepared microscope slides.


  • The ashes of Robert Koch were laid to rest in a personally created mausoleum at the Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases.


Famous Quotes of Robert Koch


“The pure culture is the foundation for all research on infectious disease.”


 “In view of the epidemiological situation in Germany, the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of the BCG-vaccine and the not uncommon severe, undesired side-effects of the BCG vaccine, the STIKO can no longer support the recommendation for this vaccination.”


“The United States has the most open wine market in the world.”


“Wine has enjoyed the most positive image it has had in years from consumers, the media and government.”


“From my numerous observations, I conclude that these tubercle bacilli occur in all tuberculous disorders and that they are distinguishable from all other microorganisms.”


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