Robert Koch was a man who dedicated his life to finding the causes of infectious diseases. He spent most of his time studying and trying to find a cure for tuberculosis, but also examined many other diseases. His research was so wonderful that he won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1905.
It all began on December 11, 1843 in Clausthal, Germany when Robert was born. Robert's first toy was a magnifying glass, and he had always dreamed of traveling to the African Jungles and the ice fields of the Arctic. Robert Koch was the third oldest of 13 children in his family, and his father has a hard time supporting them.
Koch went to college in dreams of becoming a ship doctor so he could sail to distant shores. After studying medicine at the University of Gottingen and graduating in 1866 he became a physician in different towns, and had changed his mind about becoming a ship doctor.
Being a Physician was the first of many professions Koch entered. After serving for a short time as a field surgeon during the Franco-Prussian War, he became a surgeon in Wollstein, Germany and built a laboratory there. The laboratory he made had a microscope, a homemade incubator and a microtome, which was an instrument for cutting thin slices of tissue. In that laboratory, he started his studying algae, and switched to studying pathogenic organisms after awhile.
In 1840, Friedrich Gustav Jacob Henle, who was one of Koch's teachers at the University, developed the theory that infectious diseases were caused by living microscopic organisms. In 1850 Casimir-Joseph Davaine, who was a French parasitologist, was one of the first people to see organisms in the blood of people infected with diseases. He reported that anthrax was the cause of a disease, and also reported that rod-like bodies were inside infected healthy sheep, but not inside uninfected sheep. After the research of Henle and Davaine, Koch began his work.
Koch prepared some anthrax organisms on microscope slides. Then found growth into long filaments, and found formation inside of them of oval, clear bodies known as dormant spores. He found these spores could stay living for many years in just about any conditions. These observations lead to the explanation that in the right conditions, dormant spores could turn into rod-shaped bacilli that cause anthrax. The disease was occurring in pastures not used for grazing.
Ferdinand Cohn announced Koch's anthrax life cycle that was discovered in 1876. A man by the name of Julius Cohnheim who was a famous pathologist was impressed by Koch's presentation and said, "It leaves nothing more to be proved. I regard it as the greatest discovery ever made with bacteria and I believe that this is not the last time that this young Robert Koch will surprise and shame us by the brilliance of his investigations." Cohn was correct.
When one of Ferdinand Cohn's students, Joseph Schroeter found that bacteria would grow on potatoes, egg whites, meat and bread and discovered that these bacteria colonies could form colonies almost exactly the same as the original. This was the starting point for more research into pre-culture techniques by Koch. He worked that out a few years later.
Louis Pasteur worked with disease organisms and thought that a disease organism could be outside the body. Koch went farther and after plenty of experiments, he demonstrated the complete life cycle of an organism. His anthrax experiments gave the first real proof of a relation between a bacillus and a particular disease. In 1877, Koch published a paper on the investigation of bacteria. On the paper, he told about his method of taking thin layers of bacteria on slides and fixing them by heat. He also invented the hanging-drop technique for microorganisms being placed on a slide.
In 1878, Robert Koch wrote about his experiments on the etiology of wound infection. By infecting animals with materials from different things, he produced six different types of infections, each one was due to a specific microorganism. Then he transferred the infections into different animals, and he successfully reproduced the original six infections. In the same study, he found that the animal body is an excellent place for the development of bacteria.
After these studies, Koch was one of the top scientists of the time, and he got a job in Berlin in the German Health Office. There he set up a bacteria laboratory. With many other scientists, Robert designed many new research methods. By mixing organisms in with melted gelatin, letting the gelatin get solid and letting growth begin, portions of the colonies forming were put in different tubes of broth he obtained a pure culture outside the body. At the same time, he was also concentrating on tuberculosis, he wanted to find its cause. Because of Koch's new straining method, he was able to find the bacillus that was causing the disease. He tried and tried again to try and get the organism to grow in pure culture and after awhile he finally succeeded. On March 24, 1882 he told the Physiological Society of Berlin the he had been able to isolate the bacillus. He believed that the bacillus was the cause of all forms of tuberculosis.
After these investigations, Koch's studies were stopped because cholera had found its way into Egypt, and it was feared by Europeans that it would reach Europe. Since Koch was a member of the German government, he was sent to Egypt to investigate the disease. After a long observation time of confusion he finally found the cholera organisms and that it was transmitted through water, food and even clothing.
After finishing with these investigations, he returned to his lab in Germany where we once again began his tuberculosis studies. He found that the disease could be cured in the early stages by inserting dead and alive bacillus into animals. Then, he tried to make a curing agent, called tuberculin. The tuberculin didn't seem to have much affect on the disease, and the state of tuberculosis was not recognized right away. This wasn't the last time Koch would research tuberculosis.
Between 1891 and 1899 he did research of leprosy, rinderpest, bubonic plague, surra, Texas fever and malaria. All the diseases he studied were diseases that infected both humans and animals. He couldn't thoroughly find the cause of the spread of malaria, but after a British bacteriologist by the name of Ronald Ross came to the same conclusion as Koch, that it was transmitted by mosquitoes, he was confident that his theory was correct.
In 1901, Koch concluded his investigations into tuberculosis after telling Europe and America that there was no need to take precautions against tuberculosis. His claim was rejected, and was proved to be partly wrong later.
As you have learned from my presentation, Robert Koch made many advances and breakthroughs in the world of medicine, and saved many peoples lives by doing so. I hope you have learned quite a bit about Robert Koch during these minutes, and can hopefully become more interested in his works, and perhaps inspired by them.