An Infectious Disease Timeline
Black Death begins spreading in Europe.
Christopher Columbus initiates European-American contact, which leads to transmission of European diseases to the Americas and vice versa.
Girolamo Fracastoro puts forward an early version of the germ theory of disease.
Cinchona bark (quinine) is brought to Europe to treat malaria.
Anton van Leeuwenhoek uses his microscopes to observe tiny animalcules (later known as bacteria) in tooth plaque.
Edward Jenner develops technique of vaccination, at first against smallpox.
Ignaz Semmelweis introduces antiseptic methods.
John Snow recognizes link between the spread of cholera and drinking water supplies.
Louis Pasteur concludes that infectious diseases are caused by living organisms called “germs.” An early practical consequence was Joseph Lister’s development of antisepsis by using carbolic acid to disinfect wounds.
Robert Koch validates germ theory of disease and helps initiate the science of bacteriology with a paper pinpointing a bacterium as the cause of anthrax.
Louis Pasteur develops method of attenuating a virulent pathogen (for chicken cholera) so that it immunizes but does not infect; in 1881 he devises an anthrax vaccine and in 1885, a rabies vaccine. Charles Laveran finds malarial parasites in erythrocytes of infected people and shows that the parasite replicates in the host.
Emil von Behring and Shibasaburo Kitasato discover diphtheria antitoxin serum, the first rational approach to therapy for infectious disease.
Paul Ehrlich proposes that antibodies are responsible for immunity.
The field of virology begins when Dmitri Ivanowski discovers exquisitely small pathogenic agents, later known as viruses, while searching for the cause of tobacco mosaic disease.
Organizing meeting of the Society of American Bacteriologists—later to be known as the American Society for Microbiology—is held at Yale University.
Based on work by Walter Reed, a commission of researchers shows that yellow fever is caused by a virus from mosquitoes; mosquito-eradication programs are begun.
Fritz Schaudinn and Erich Hoffmann discover bacterial cause of syphilis—Treponema pallidum.
Francis Rous reports on a viral etiology of a cancer (Rous sarcoma virus).
Epidemic of “Spanish” flu causes at least 25 million deaths
Frederick Griffith discovers genetic transformation phenomenon in pneumococci, thereby establishing a foundation of molecular genetics.
Alexander Fleming reports discovering penicillin in mold.
Gerhard Domagk synthesizes the antimetabolite Prontosil, which kills Streptococcus in mice.
Ernst Ruska uses an electron microscope to obtain first pictures of a virus.
Selman Waksman suggests the word “antibiotic” for compounds and preparations that have antimicrobial properties; 2 years later, he and colleagues discover streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis, in a soil fungus.
Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty identify DNA as the genetically active material in the pneumococcus transformation.
Edward Tatum and Joshua Lederberg discover “sexual” conjugation in bacteria.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is formed within the United Nations.
Renato Dulbecco shows that a single virus particle can produce plaques.
James Watson and Francis Crick reveal the double helical structure of DNA.
Frank Burnet enunciates clonal selection theory of the immune response.
Arthur Kornberg demonstrates DNA synthesis in cell-free bacterial extract. François Jacob and Jacques Monod report work on genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.
Howard Temin and David Baltimore independently discover that certain RNA viruses use reverse transcription (RNA to reconstitute DNA) as part of their replication cycle.
Asilomar conference sets standards for the containment of possible biohazards from recombinant DNA experiments with microbes.
Smallpox eradication program of WHO is completed; the world is declared free of smallpox.
AIDS first identified as a new infectious disease by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stanley Prusiner finds evidence that a class of infectious proteins, which he calls prions, cause scrapie in sheep.
Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo announce their discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus that is believed to cause AIDS.
Barry Marshall shows that isolates from ulcer patients contain the bacterium later known as Helicobacter pylori. The discovery ultimately leads to a new pathogen-based etiology of ulcers.
Robert Gallo, Dani Bolognesi, Sam Broder, and others show that AZT inhibits HIV action in vitro.
Kary Mullis reports basis of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of even single DNA molecules.
J. Craig Venter, Hamilton Smith, Claire Fraser, and colleagues at The Institute for Genomic Research elucidate the first complete genome sequence of a microorganism: Haemophilus influenzae.
Implied link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”) and human disease syndrome leads to large-scale controls on British cattle.
New York experiences outbreak of West Nile encephalopathy transmitted by birds and mosquitoes.
Antibiotic-resistant pathogens are spreading in many environments.
NOTE: For more extensive chronological listings, see “Microbiology’s fifty most significant events during the past 125 years,” poster supplement to ASM News 65(5), 1999.