They are almost everywhere, in the air, soil and water. They are on and inside the bodies of living things. They can help, and they can harm. They are the microbes. Microbes have many names, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Many of these organisms are visible only with the help of strong magnifying lenses of light or electron microscopes.
Anton von Leeuwenhoek and the Microscope
Anton von Leeuwenhoek was the first person to actually see and report on one kind of microbe called bacteria by scientists today, but named by him as animalcules or little animals.
He took muddy water and scrapings from his mouth and examined these with the small hand-held microscopes that he invented. He wrote down and catalogued his observations. Included in one of his writings was the description that upon heating a number of these bacteria no longer moved about as before. He believed the bacteria were killed. He was right!
All of these observations amazed the world of science at that time. It was only the 17th century and such creatures this small seemed unbelievable. Leeuwenhoek described how some of these bacteria spun and darted, while others just flipped about erratically. What he could not see were the very thin flagella that propelled the bacteria.
Soon, others invented their own microscopes and the science we now know as microscopy was born and began in earnest.
Dr. Louis Pasteur, Chemist and Dr. Robert Koch, MD
The science of microbiology made some of its greatest early advances under the direction of the Chemist, Louis Pasteur and the Medical Doctor, Robert Koch of Germany.
Wine, Anthrax and Rabies
Pasteur was called upon to investigate to investigate “sick” wines. These wines were very sour and tasted bitter. The French winemakers were extremely upset. Money and reputations could easily be ruined with one bad batch of wine.
Pasteur soon discovered that good wine contained yeasts which he named the “good yeasts”; bad wines contained stick-like forms which he called bad or “new yeasts”. The bad yeasts soured the wines. Pasteur told the winemakers, keep the bad yeasts out of the wine and your wines will not sour. Check your true yeast cultures and make sure that they are not contaminated or defiled with the stick cells. Instead, use only only the older, good yeast cultures to make your grapes ferment and convert the sugar to wine which is alcohol.
Pasteur invented a simple technique to preserve the wine from bacteria. He heated them to about 63 degrees Centigrade for 30 minutes. This killed the bacteria that spoiled the wine. We know this process as Pasteurization. This heating procedure is used for milk, and other liquids. The heating destroys undesirable microbes that often damage food or harm people who eat that food.
We now know Pasteur’s new yeasts were Lactobacillus, literally lactic-acid bacteria. These bacteria are used to make delicious yogurt that many people eat every day for health and nutrition. Yogurt is made by adding some starter Lactobacillus culture to skim milk and incubating it for a defined time. Soon the sugar is converted to the sour-tasting, lactic acid. Kefir is another wonderful and healthful liquid food produced by a mixture of as many as seven or eight fermenting microorganisms.
To be sure, there is commercial value in selling sour milk. Even spoiled wine is sold as wine vinegar.
Louis Pasteur to this day is recognized as an outstanding scientist who contributed greatly to the health and safety of humanity. His accomplishments include vaccines for rabies and anthrax and the initiation of the science of microbiology as a valid and important adjunct of medicine. The famous Pasteur Institute in Paris, France continues to this day as a center for major research and study.