Robert Koch: Ten Facts About one of the Main Founders of Microbiology

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robert koch facts german microbiologist tuberculosis

Back in the 19th century, infectious diseases were the main cause of death worldwide. The German physician Robert Koch and his colleagues have succeeded in identifying infectious agents and thereby creating therapies to prevent these diseases. For instance, Robert Koch identified the cause of tuberculosis. Who is Robert Koch and what (else) did he discover?

  • Robert Koch was born on December 11, 1843, in Clausthal, Harz as one of thirteen children of a miner family. His father Hermann Koch was a secret counselor of mines at the Clausthal mining office.
  • Robert Koch studied medicine at the University of Göttingen where he received his doctorate in 1866.
  • He was married to his early love Emmy Fraatz between 1967 – 1890. After divorcing his first wife, with who he had a daughter, he met the then 17-year-old Hedwig Freiberg in the same year. Hedwig Freiberg was a student of a painter, who also portrayed Koch at that time. They got married in 1893.
  • While living and practicing in Wollstein from 1872 on, Robert Koch did research on anthrax. He found out that anthrax was caused by only one pathogen and he was also able to explain the chain of infection. Koch was the first person, who proved that microorganisms can cause infectious diseases.
  • In 1880, he was appointed to Berlin to expand a medical research institute within the Imperial Health Department. In 1882, he announced the discovery of the pathogen which causes tuberculosis in front of the Berlin Institute for Physiology. His lecture about his discovery of tubercle bacilli, which cause tuberculosis, made him world-famous. At that time, many people died due to the “white pest”.
  • In 1905, he reived the Noble prize for medicine due to his findings of the tuberculosis bacillus.
  • Robert Koch’s aim was to develop an injection against tuberculosis based on his previous research. In 1890, he presented an active substance called tuberculin. But it turned out to be not effective against the bacillus. Until today, tuberculin is being used to diagnose a tuberculosis infection. Even though the substance turned out to be a flop, Robert Koch got his own institute called Königlich Preußisches Institut für Infektionskrankheiten ( = Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases) in Berlin.
  • He was leading the institute until 1904 – one year before his death. Today, it’s the Federal Institute for Infectious Diseases and Non-Communicable Diseases of Germany (Robert Koch Institut).
  • For his research about cholera, he traveled to Calcutta, India and other countries. In 1884, Koch identified the bacterium Vibrio cholera – unknowingly 30 years after the Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini.
  • In his late years, Robert Koch mainly used to travel to do research about epizootic diseases and sleeping sickness.

Featured image (cropped): Robert Koch – Wilhelm FechnerPublic Domain

October 3, 2019
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