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A Search For Better Health Topic 4 : Pasteur and Koch. Biology in Focus, HSC Course Glenda Childrawi , Margaret Robson and Stephanie Hollis. DOT Point(s) . describe the contribution of Pasteur and Koch to our understanding of infectious diseases. world.edu. Introduction.

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a search for better health topic 4 pasteur and koch

A Search For Better HealthTopic 4: Pasteur and Koch

Biology in Focus, HSC Course

Glenda Childrawi, Margaret Robson and Stephanie Hollis

dot point s
DOT Point(s)
  • describe the contribution of Pasteur and Koch to our understanding of infectious diseases



In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a revolution in microbiology, primarily due to the research of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. Working separately, they were able to make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of infectious disease.




Although they each used aspects of the other’s work in their own research, the degree of collaboration and communication was minimal as they did not get on with each other.



Prior to the work of Pasteur, Koch and others, the explanation for the cause of disease and decay was the theory of spontaneous generation. This involved the idea that life, such as the maggots that were present in rotting flesh, arose spontaneously from nonliving things.



Pasteur was able to disprove this theory and establish the ‘germ theory of disease’. This theory states that germs (microbes) cause disease and that all micro-organisms come from pre-existing microorganisms.


louis pasteur
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) was born in France, studied chemistry and received many awards for his work relating crystal structure to optical activity. Although not his original area of study, he was credited with creating the science of microbiology and made invaluable contributions to the understanding of infectious disease.


louis pasteur1
Louis Pasteur
  • Pasteur studied fermentation of beet juice and found that the process was due to the presence of living organisms, microbes called yeasts.

He also found that other micro-organisms were responsible for the souring of the alcohol produced.


louis pasteur2
Louis Pasteur

Pasteur was instrumental in finding that micro-organisms (bacteria) were the cause of wine, beer and vinegar spoilage. He discovered that the solution to the wine and vinegar problem was to heat these solutions long enough to kill the contaminating bacteria that were present after fermentation.


louis pasteur3
Louis Pasteur

This was the beginning of the widely used process of pasteurisation, still used today to ensure products such as milk are free of disease-causing micro-organisms and are suitable to drink. This process was initially used in milk production to destroy the tuberculosis bacterium.


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Louis Pasteur

Pasteur also found that the rotting of foodstuffs was due to the activity of living organisms.

  • After further investigation he entered into the debate about spontaneous generation, refuting this theory and proposing the germ theory of disease.

He carried out his famous ‘swan-necked flask’ experiments to gain evidence to support his theory.


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Louis Pasteur

These experiments involved using flasks that had long-drawn-out necks (like those of swans) that were not sealed. Meat broth was boiled in the flasks and as they cooled the air was drawn in from outside. Any microorganisms present in the air did not reach the broth as they were trapped in the narrow neck and the curve of the glass.


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Louis Pasteur

No bacterial or fungal growth was observed in these flasks. Bacterial growth occurred if the curve of the flask was broken off and the contents of the flask exposed to the air. Furthermore, the tipping of a flask to allow the solution in it to reach the curve where the micro-organisms were trapped resulted in bacterial growth occurring.


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Louis Pasteur

This added further evidence to discredit the theory of spontaneous generation. It proved that the organisms that contaminated the broth and caused it to decay must be carried in the air and not be spontaneously generated.


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Louis Pasteur

Pasteur’s flasks are on display at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and, after nearly 150 years, the broth in the swannecked flask is still free of bacterial growth. This classic experiment carried out by Pasteur demonstrates how theories in science can be disproved.


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Louis Pasteur
  • Pasteur also uncovered the relationship between microorganisms and disease, and as specific bacteria became associated with specific diseases, the spontaneous generation theory became less widely supported and the germ theory of disease was more widely accepted.


louis pasteur10
Louis Pasteur

Pasteur investigated the cause of anthrax and, after input from the experiments of Koch, determined that the animals that were contracting the disease, even though they had no known contact with animals suffering from the disease, did so due to spores from the carcasses of animals that died from the disease. These carcasses had been buried in the fields that were grazed by healthy animals.


louis pasteur11
Louis Pasteur

Pasteur, in the course of his studies of fowl cholera, also developed a way to attenuate, or weaken, bacteria so that when they are introduced into a host they could cause the body to be ready to recognise the real infection. He had produced a vaccine that prevented chickens from developing chicken cholera.


louis pasteur12
Louis Pasteur

He extended this work and developed a vaccine for anthrax. His detractors were not convinced about the effectiveness of the vaccine and he was challenged to carry out a public field test. This trial was successful as all animals that were given the vaccine before being exposed to anthrax survived, and the animals that were not given the vaccine died.


louis pasteur13
Louis Pasteur

The vaccine was found to be effective and its use was widely adopted.

  • He went on to develop vaccines for a number of other diseases such as rabies where he used the vaccine on humans for the first time. Pasteur had established the principle of immunity and provided an effective way to prevent infectious disease.


robert koch
Robert Koch

Robert Koch (1843–1910) was born in Germany and obtained his medical degree from Göttingen.

  • hemade innumerable contributions to the field of microbiology and the understanding of infectious disease.

He was an expert on bacteriological techniques and many of the techniques used today are based on Koch’s original techniques.


robert koch1
Robert Koch
  • He developed the agar plate technique for growing microorganisms that is still in use today, and used it to culture the isolated anthrax bacillus.


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Robert Koch

Koch also carried out an extensive study of the anthrax bacillus. He examined the blood of sheep that had died from anthrax and identified rod-shaped bacteria that he isolated and grew in cultures. These cultured bacteria were then injected into healthy sheep that subsequently developed anthrax.


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Robert Koch

He repeatedly showed that the anthrax spores he had obtained from the pure cultures he had grown could cause the disease in other animals and kill them. These experiments added further weight to the germ theory of disease as they showed that a microorganism grown outside the body caused a disease.


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Robert Koch

Handout Diagram

  • Koch determined that each disease is caused by a specific microorganism. The principles he used to identify the specific micro-organism that was responsible for a disease came to be known as Koch’s postulates and are still in use today to identify the specific micro-organism that causes a particular disease.


koch s postulates
Koch’s Postulates

The steps that must be followed to determine if a particular micro-organism is responsible for causing a disease are known as Koch’s postulates and are given below:

  • The same micro-organism must be present in every diseased host.
  • The micro-organism must be isolated and cultured in the laboratory and accurately described and recorded.
  • When a sample of the pure culture is inoculated into a healthy host, this host must develop the same symptoms as the original host.
  • The micro-organism must be able to be isolated from the second host and cultured and identifiedas the same as the original species.


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Robert Koch

One of Koch’s subsequent big breakthroughs was the discovery of the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. He was also responsible for identifying the bacteria responsible for causing cholera. He travelled extensively in the latter part of his career to study diseases such as the bubonic plague and African sleeping sickness.



-Students to complete Contributions of Pasteur and Koch worksheet