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Robert Koch

Born 11 December 1843(1843-12-11)
Clausthal, Kingdom of Hanover
Died 27 May 1910 (aged 66)
Baden-Baden, Grand Duchy of Baden
Fields Microbiology
Institutions Imperial Health Office, Berlin, University of Berlin
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Doctoral advisor Friedrich Gustav Jakob Henle
Known for Discovery bacteriology
Koch's postulates of germ theory
Isolation of anthrax, tuberculosis and cholera
Influenced Friedrich Loeffler
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Medicine (1905)

Heinrich Herman Robert Koch (11 December 1843 – 27 May 1910) was a German physician. He became famous for isolating Bacillus anthracis (1877), the Tuberculosis bacillus (1882) and the Vibrio cholera (1883) and for his development of Koch's postulates. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his tuberculosis findings in 1905. He is considered one of the founders of microbiology—he inspired such major figures as Paul Ehrlich and Gerhard Domagk.



Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch was born in Clausthal, Germany as the son of a mining official. He studied medicine under Friedrich Gustav Jakob Henle at the University of Göttingen and graduated in 1866. He then served in the Franco-Prussian War and later became district medical officer, Wollstein (Wolsztyn), Prussian Poland. Working with very limited resources, he became one of the founders of bacteriology, the other major figure being Louis Pasteur.

After Casimir Davaine showed the direct transmission of the anthrax bacillus between cows, Koch studied anthrax more closely. He invented methods to purify the bacillus from blood samples and grow pure cultures. He found that, while it could not survive outside a host for long, anthrax built persisting endospores that could last a long time.

These endospores, embedded in soil, were the cause of unexplained "spontaneous" outbreaks of anthrax. Koch published his findings in 1876, and was rewarded with a job at the Imperial Health Office in Berlin in 1880. In 1881, he urged the sterilization of surgical instruments using heat.

In Berlin, he improved the methods he used in Wollstein, including staining and purification techniques, and bacterial growth media, including agar plates (thanks to the advice of Angelina and Walther Hesse) and the Petri dish, named after its inventor, his assistant Julius Richard Petri. These devices are still used today. With these techniques, he was able to discover the bacterium causing tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in 1882 (he announced the discovery on 24 March). Tuberculosis was the cause of one in seven deaths in the mid-19th century.

In 1883, Koch worked with a French research team in Alexandria, Egypt, studying cholera. Koch identified the vibrio bacterium that caused cholera, though he never managed to prove it in experiments. The bacterium had been previously isolated by Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini in 1854, but his work had been ignored due to the predominance of the miasma theory of disease. Koch was unaware of Pacini's work and made an independent discovery, and his greater preeminence allowed the discovery to be widely spread for the benefit of others. In 1965, however, the bacterium was formally renamed Vibrio cholera Pacini 1854.

In 1885, he became professor of hygiene at the University of Berlin, then in 1891 he was made Honorary Professor of the medical faculty and Director of the new Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases (eventually renamed as the Robert Koch Institute), a position from which he resigned in 1904. He started traveling around the world, studying diseases in South Africa, India, and Java.

Probably as important as his work on tuberculosis, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize (1905), are Koch's postulates, which say that to establish that an organism is the cause of a disease, it must be:

  • found in all cases of the disease examined
  • prepared and maintained in a pure culture
  • capable of producing the original infection, even after several generations in culture
  • retrievable from an inoculated animal and cultured again.

After Koch's success the quality of his own research declined (especially with the fiasco over his ineffective TB cure "tuberculin"), although his pupils found the organisms responsible for diphtheria, typhoid, pneumonia, gonorrhoea, cerebrospinal meningitis, leprosy, bubonic plague, tetanus, and syphilis, among others, by using his methods.

Robert Koch died on 27 May 1910 from a heart-attack in Baden-Baden, aged 66.

Honors and awards

Monument to Robert Koch on his name square in Berlin

The crater Koch on the Moon is named after him. The Robert Koch Prize and Medal were created to honour Microbiologists who make groundbreaking discoveries or who contribute to global health in a unique way. The now-defunct Robert Koch Hospital at Koch, Missouri (south of St. Louis, Missouri), was also named in his honor. A hagiographic account of Koch's career can be found in the 1939 Nazi propaganda film Robert Koch, der Bekämpfer des Todes (The fighter against death), directed by Hans Steinhoff and starring Emil Jannings as Koch.


External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

Medical warning!
This article is from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Medical science has made many leaps forward since it has been written. This is not a site for medical advice, when you need information on a medical condition, consult a professional instead.

ROBERT KOCH (1843-1910), German bacteriologist, was born at Klausthal, Hanover, on the 11th of December 1843. He studied medicine at Gottingen, and it was while he was practising as a physician at Wollstein that he began those bacteriological researches that made his name famous. In 1876 he obtained a pure culture of the bacillus of anthrax, announcing a method of preventive inoculation against that disease seven years later. He became a member of the Sanitary Commission at Berlin and a professor at the School of Medicine in 1880, and five years later he was appointed to a chair in Berlin University and director of the Institute of Health. In 1882, largely as the result of the improved methods of bacteriological investigation he was able to elaborate, he discovered the bacillus of tuberculosis; and in the following year, having been sent on an official mission to Egypt and India to study the aetiology of Asiatic cholera, he identified the comma bacillus as the specific organism of that malady. In 1890 great hopes were aroused by the announcement that in tuberculin he had prepared an agent which exercised an inimical influence on the growth of the tubercle bacillus, but the expectations that were formed of it as a remedy for consumption were not fulfilled, though it came into considerable vogue as a means of diagnosing the existence of tuberculosis in animals intended for food. At the Congress on Tuberculosis held in London in 1901 he maintained that tuberculosis in man and in cattle is not the same disease, the practical inference being that the danger to men of infection from milk and meat is less than from other human subjects suffering from the disease. This statement, however, was not regarded as properly proved, and one of its results was the appointment of a British Royal Commission to study the question. Dr Koch also investigated the nature of rinderpest in South Africa in 1896, and found means of combating the disease. In 1897 he went to Bombay at the head of a commission formed to investigate the bubonic plague, and he subsequently undertook extensive travels in pursuit of his studies on the origin and treatment of malaria. He was summoned to South Africa a second time in 1903 to give expert advice on other cattle diseases, and on his return was elected a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. In1906-1907he spent eighteen months in East Africa, investigating sleepingsickness. He died at Baden-Baden of heart-disease on the 28th of May 1910. Koch was undoubtedly one of the greatest bacteriologists ever known, and a great benefactor of humanity by his discoveries. Honours were showered upon him, and in 1905 he was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine.

Among his works may be mentioned: Weitere Mitteilungen fiber ein Heilmittel gegen Tuberkulose (Leipzig, 1891); and Reiseberichte fiber Rinderpest, Bubonenpest in Indien and Afrika, Tsetseoder Surra-Krankheit, Texasfieber, tropische Malaria, Schwarzwasserfieber (Berlin, 1898). From 1886 onwards he edited, with Dr Karl Flugge, the Zeitschrift far Hygiene and Infektionskrankheiten (published at Leipzig). See Loeffler, "Robert Koch, zum 60ten Geburtstage" in Deut. Medizin. Wochenschr. (No. 50, 1903).

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Simple English

Robert Koch
File:Robert Koch (young).jpg
Robert Koch
BornDecember 11, 1843
Clausthal, Germany
DiedMay 27, 1910
Baden-Baden, Germany
InstitutionsInstitute for Infectious Diseases, Berlin, Germany
Alma materUniversity of Göttingen
Known forTuberculosis
Notable prizesNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1905)

Robert Koch (December 11, 1843 - May 27, 1910) was a German doctor.[1] He won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for studying tuberculosis.[2]

The Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Disease started in 1891, is now called the Robert Koch Institute.[3]

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