The problem with writing about history is that developments appear inevitable and indeed when we present a chronological account this must be the case. However, it is as well to remember that at each point in the story the outcome could have been different.
The advances in medicine in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are the result of the demonstration of the validity of the germ theory in the nineteenth century and most significantly the establishment of its functional utility. It is easy to forget how recent these advances are. In 1922, Topley succeeded Sheridan Dele´pine in the Bacteriology Department of the University of Manchester. Dele´pine had worked with Pasteur. This was a world before molecular biology, before most immunology, and at the beginnings of antimicrobial chemotherapy. Here, some of the advances are documented, but the choice of what to include is determined by the concerns of the present and the recent past and may not reflect fully the concerns and priorities of the past.
MICROBIOLOGY Microbiology is the study of living organisms (‘microorganisms’ or ‘microbes’), simple in structure, and usually small in size, that are generally considered to be neither plants nor animals; they include bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. ‘Pure’ microbiology concerns the organisms themselves and ‘applied’ microbiology their effects on other living beings, when they act as pathogens or commensals, or on their inanimate environment, when they bring about chemical changes in it. Thus, microbiology has applications in human and veterinary medicine, in agriculture and animal husbandry, and in industrial technology and even climatology. Microorganisms were first seen and described by the Dutch lens-maker Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632– 1723), who devised simple microscopes capable of giving magnifications of c. 200. In a number of letters to the Royal Society of London between 1673 and his death, he gave clear and accurate descriptions and drawings of a variety of living things that undoubtedly included protozoa, yeasts, and bacteria (Dobell 1932). These striking observations did not lead immediately to great advances in the knowledge of microbes. These were delayed for nearly two centuries, until essential technical advances had been made by workers who nowadays would be described as industrial or medical microbiologists.
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