Last updated
Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, a common human pathogen and research organism. EscherichiaColi NIAID.jpg
Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, a common human pathogen and research organism.

Bacteriology is the branch and specialty of biology that studies the morphology, ecology, genetics and biochemistry of bacteria as well as many other aspects related to them. This subdivision of microbiology involves the identification, classification, and characterization of bacterial species. [1] Because of the similarity of thinking and working with microorganisms other than bacteria, such as protozoa, fungi, and viruses, there has been a tendency for the field of bacteriology to extend as microbiology. [2] The terms were formerly often used interchangeably. [3] However, bacteriology can be classified as a distinct science.



An agar plate with bacteria spread by the streak plate method. Colonies de legionelles.jpg
An agar plate with bacteria spread by the streak plate method.


Bacteriology is the study of bacteria and their relation to medicine. Bacteriology evolved from physicians needing to apply the germ theory to address the concerns relating to disease spreading in hospitals the 19th century. [5] Identification and characterizing of bacteria being associated to diseases led to advances in pathogenic bacteriology. Koch's postulates played a role into identifying the relationships between bacteria and specific diseases. Since then, bacteriology has played a role in successful advances in science such as bacterial vaccines like diphtheria toxoid and tetanus toxoid. Bacteriology can be studied and applied in many sub-fields relating to agriculture, marine biology, water pollution, bacterial genetics, veterinary medicine, biotechnology and others. [6] [7]


A bacteriologist is a microbiologist or other trained professional in bacteriology. Bacteriologists are interested in studying and learning about bacteria, as well as using their skills in clinical settings. This includes investigating properties of bacteria such as morphology, ecology, genetics and biochemistry, phylogenetics, genomics and many other areas related to bacteria like disease diagnostic testing. [8] They can also work as medical scientists, veterinary scientists, or diagnostic technicians in locations like clinics, blood banks, hospitals, laboratories and animal hospitals. [9] [10] Bacteriologists working in public health or biomedical research help develop vaccines for public use. [11]


Salmonella growing on XLD agar Salmonella growing on XLD agar.JPG
Salmonella growing on XLD agar

The growth of bacteria in laboratory cultures is the mainstay method used by bacteriologists. Both solid and liquid culture media are used. Solid culture medium is usually nutrient agar in a petri dish. The constituents of the nutrient agar vary according to the bacteria under investigation. For growing the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae , for example, which is dependent on hemin and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide for its growth, blood (usually from a sheep or a horse) is added to the medium. [12] When growing bacteria that are found in the intestines of mammals, such as salmonella, XLD agar which contains, among other ingredients deoxycholic acid is used. [13]


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the first person to observe bacteria using a microscope. Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723). Natuurkundige te Delft Rijksmuseum SK-A-957.jpeg
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the first person to observe bacteria using a microscope.
Louis Pasteur in his laboratory, painting by A. Edelfeldt in 1885 Albert Edelfelt - Louis Pasteur - 1885.jpg
Louis Pasteur in his laboratory, painting by A. Edelfeldt in 1885
Statue of Koch in Berlin Statue of Robert Koch in Berlin.jpg
Statue of Koch in Berlin

Bacteria were first observed by the Dutch microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1676, using a single-lens microscope of his own design. He then published his observations in a series of letters to the Royal Society of London. His observations also included protozoans, which he called animalcules. The German Ferdinand Cohn began studying bacteria in 1870 and is also said to be a founder of bacteriology, as he was the first to classify bacteria based on their morphology. [14] [15]

Louis Pasteur demonstrated in 1859 that microorganisms cause the fermentation process, and that this growth is not due to spontaneous generation (yeasts and molds, commonly associated with fermentation, are not bacteria, but rather fungi). Along with his contemporary Robert Koch, Pasteur was an early advocate of the germ theory of disease. [16] Between 1880 and 1881 Pasteur produced two successful vaccinations for animals against diseases caused by bacteria. The importance of bacteria was recognized as it led to a study of disease prevention and treatment of diseases by vaccines. [6] [7] Pasteur's research lead to Ignaz Semmelweis and Joseph Lister researching the importance of sanitized hands in medical work.

In the 1840s, Semmelweis' observations and ideas surrounding sanitary techniques were rejected and his book on the topic condemned by the medical community due to its conflict with the prevailing theory and practice of humorism at the time. [17] After Lister's publications, which supported hand washing and sanitation with germ theory, doctors started sanitizing their hands in the 1870s; mandatory handwashing was not incorporated into common health practice until as late as the 1980s. [18]

The discovery of the connection of microorganisms to disease came later in the nineteenth century, when German physician Robert Koch introduced the science of microorganisms including bacteria to the medical field. [19] Koch, a pioneer in medical microbiology, worked on cholera, anthrax and tuberculosis. In his research into tuberculosis Koch finally proved the germ theory, for which he received a Nobel Prize in 1905. [5] In Koch's postulates, he set out criteria to test if an organism is the cause of a disease, and these postulates are still used today. [20] [6] Both Koch and Pasteur played a role in improving antisepsis in medical treatment. In 1870-1885 the modern methods of bacteriology technique were introduced by the use of stains, and by the method of separating mixtures of organisms on plates of nutrient media. [6] [7]

Though it had been known since the nineteenth century that bacteria are a cause of many diseases, no effective antibacterial treatments were available until the 20th century. [21] In 1910, Paul Ehrlich developed the first antibiotic, by changing dyes that selectively stained Treponema pallidum —the spirochaete that causes syphilis—into compounds that selectively killed the pathogen. [22] Ehrlich was awarded a 1908 Nobel Prize for his work on immunology, and pioneered the use of stains to detect and identify bacteria, with his work being the basis of the Gram stain and the Ziehl–Neelsen stain. [23]

A major step forward in the study of bacteria came in 1977 when Carl Woese recognised that archaea have a separate line of evolutionary descent from bacteria. [24] This new phylogenetic taxonomy came from the sequencing of 16S ribosomal RNA and divided prokaryotes into two evolutionary domains as part of the three-domain system. [25]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gram stain</span> Investigative procedure in microbiology

In microbiology and bacteriology, Gram stain, is a method of staining used to classify bacterial species into two large groups: gram-positive bacteria and gram-negative bacteria. The name comes from the Danish bacteriologist Hans Christian Gram, who developed the technique in 1884.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Koch</span> 19/20th-century German physician and bacteriologist

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch was a German physician and microbiologist. As the discoverer of the specific causative agents of deadly infectious diseases including tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax, he is regarded as one of the main founders of modern bacteriology. As such he is popularly nicknamed the father of microbiology, and as the father of medical bacteriology. His discovery of the anthrax bacterium in 1876 is considered as the birth of modern bacteriology. His discoveries directly provided proofs for the germ theory of diseases, and the scientific basis of public health.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis Pasteur</span> French chemist and microbiologist (1822–1895)

Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization, the last of which was named after him. His research in chemistry led to remarkable breakthroughs in the understanding of the causes and preventions of diseases, which laid down the foundations of hygiene, public health and much of modern medicine. Pasteur's works are credited with saving millions of lives through the developments of vaccines for rabies and anthrax. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern bacteriology and has been honored as the "father of bacteriology" and the "father of microbiology".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Microorganism</span> Microscopic living organism

A microorganism, or microbe, is an organism of microscopic size, which may exist in its single-celled form or as a colony of cells.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Petri dish</span> Shallow dish used to hold cell cultures

A Petri dish is a shallow transparent lidded dish that biologists use to hold growth medium in which cells can be cultured, originally, cells of bacteria, fungi and small mosses. The container is named after its inventor, German bacteriologist Julius Richard Petri. It is the most common type of culture plate. The Petri dish is one of the most common items in biology laboratories and has entered popular culture. The term is sometimes written in lower case, especially in non-technical literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Koch's postulates</span> Four criteria showing a causal relationship between a causative microbe and a disease

Koch's postulates are four criteria designed to establish a causal relationship between a microbe and a disease. The postulates were formulated by Robert Koch and Friedrich Loeffler in 1884, based on earlier concepts described by Jakob Henle, and the statements were refined and published by Koch in 1890. Koch applied the postulates to describe the etiology of cholera and tuberculosis, both of which are now ascribed to bacteria. The postulates have been controversially generalized to other diseases. More modern concepts in microbial pathogenesis cannot be examined using Koch's postulates, including viruses and asymptomatic carriers. They have largely been supplanted by other criteria such as the Bradford Hill criteria for infectious disease causality in modern public health and the Molecular Koch's postulates for microbial pathogenesis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Germ theory of disease</span> Prevailing theory about diseases

The germ theory of disease is the currently accepted scientific theory for many diseases. It states that microorganisms known as pathogens or "germs" can affect disease. These small organisms, too small to be seen without magnification, invade humans, other animals, and other living hosts. Their growth and reproduction within their hosts can cause disease. "Germ" refers to not just a bacterium but to any type of microorganism, such as protists or fungi, or even non-living pathogens that can cause disease, such as viruses, prions, or viroids. Diseases caused by pathogens are called infectious diseases. Even when a pathogen is the principal cause of a disease, environmental and hereditary factors often influence the severity of the disease, and whether a potential host individual becomes infected when exposed to the pathogen. Pathogens are disease-carrying agents that can pass from one individual to another, both in humans and animals. Infectious diseases are caused by biological agents such as pathogenic microorganisms as well as parasites.

Pathophysiology – a convergence of pathology with physiology – is the study of the disordered physiological processes that cause, result from, or are otherwise associated with a disease or injury. Pathology is the medical discipline that describes conditions typically observed during a disease state, whereas physiology is the biological discipline that describes processes or mechanisms operating within an organism. Pathology describes the abnormal or undesired condition, whereas pathophysiology seeks to explain the functional changes that are occurring within an individual due to a disease or pathologic state.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kiyoshi Shiga</span> Japanese physician

Kiyoshi Shiga was a Japanese physician and bacteriologist. He had a well-rounded education and career that led to many scientific discoveries. In 1897, Shiga was credited with the discovery and identification of the Shigelladysenteriae microorganism which causes dysentery, and the Shiga toxin which is produced by the bacteria. He conducted research on other diseases such as tuberculosis and trypanosomiasis, and made many advancements in bacteriology and immunology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ziehl–Neelsen stain</span> A type of acid-fast stain

Ziehl–Neelsen staining is a type of acid-fast stain, first introduced by Paul Ehrlich. Ziehl–Neelsen staining is a bacteriological stain used to identify acid-fast organisms, mainly Mycobacteria. It is named for two German doctors who modified the stain: the bacteriologist Franz Ziehl (1859–1926) and the pathologist Friedrich Neelsen (1854–1898).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Asepsis</span> Absence of disease-causing microorganisms

Asepsis is the state of being free from disease-causing micro-organisms. There are two categories of asepsis: medical and surgical. The modern day notion of asepsis is derived from the older antiseptic techniques, a shift initiated by different individuals in the 19th century who introduced practices such as the sterilizing of surgical tools and the wearing of surgical gloves during operations. The goal of asepsis is to eliminate infection, not to achieve sterility. Ideally, a surgical field is sterile, meaning it is free of all biological contaminants, not just those that can cause disease, putrefaction, or fermentation. Even in an aseptic state, a condition of sterile inflammation may develop. The term often refers to those practices used to promote or induce asepsis in an operative field of surgery or medicine to prevent infection.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antoine Béchamp</span> French scientist

Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp was a French scientist now best known for breakthroughs in applied organic chemistry and for a bitter rivalry with Louis Pasteur.

In microbiology, pleomorphism, also pleiomorphism, is the ability of some microorganisms to alter their morphology, biological functions or reproductive modes in response to environmental conditions. Pleomorphism has been observed in some members of the Deinococcaceae family of bacteria. The modern definition of pleomorphism in the context of bacteriology is based on variation of morphology or functional methods of the individual cell, rather than a heritable change of these characters as previously believed.

Artificial induction of immunity is immunization achieved by human efforts in preventive healthcare, as opposed to natural immunity as produced by organisms' immune systems. It makes people immune to specific diseases by means other than waiting for them to catch the disease. The purpose is to reduce the risk of death and suffering, that is, the disease burden, even when eradication of the disease is not possible. Vaccination is the chief type of such immunization, greatly reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bacteria</span> Domain of microorganisms

Bacteria are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one biological cell. They constitute a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria were among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most of its habitats. Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep biosphere of Earth's crust. Bacteria play a vital role in many stages of the nutrient cycle by recycling nutrients and the fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere. The nutrient cycle includes the decomposition of dead bodies; bacteria are responsible for the putrefaction stage in this process. In the biological communities surrounding hydrothermal vents and cold seeps, extremophile bacteria provide the nutrients needed to sustain life by converting dissolved compounds, such as hydrogen sulphide and methane, to energy. Bacteria also live in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with plants and animals. Most bacteria have not been characterised and there are many species that cannot be grown in the laboratory. The study of bacteria is known as bacteriology, a branch of microbiology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Medical microbiology</span> Branch of medical science

Medical microbiology, the large subset of microbiology that is applied to medicine, is a branch of medical science concerned with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. In addition, this field of science studies various clinical applications of microbes for the improvement of health. There are four kinds of microorganisms that cause infectious disease: bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses, and one type of infectious protein called prion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Microbiology</span> Study of microscopic organisms

Microbiology is the scientific study of microorganisms, those being unicellular, multicellular, or acellular. Microbiology encompasses numerous sub-disciplines including virology, bacteriology, protistology, mycology, immunology, and parasitology.

The French Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) and German Robert Koch (1843–1910) are the two greatest figures in medical microbiology and in establishing acceptance of the germ theory of disease. In 1882, fueled by national rivalry and a language barrier, the tension between Pasteur and the younger Koch erupted into an acute conflict.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Infectious diseases (medical specialty)</span> Medical specialty dealing with the diagnosis, control and treatment of infections

Infectious diseases or ID, also known as infectiology, is a medical specialty dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of infections. An infectious diseases specialist's practice consists of managing nosocomial (healthcare-acquired) infections or community-acquired infections. An ID specialist investigates the cause of a disease to determine what kind of Bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi the disease is caused by. Once the pathogen is known, an ID specialist can then run various tests to determine the best antimicrobial drug to kill the pathogen and treat the disease. While infectious diseases have always been around, the infectious disease specialty did not exist until the late 1900s after scientist and physicians in the 19th-century paved the way with research on the sources of infectious disease and the development of vaccines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bacteriologist</span> Professional trained in bacteriology

A bacteriologist is a microbiologist, or similarly trained professional, in bacteriology -- a subdivision of microbiology that studies bacteria, typically pathogenic ones. Bacteriologists are interested in studying and learning about bacteria, as well as using their skills in clinical settings. This includes investigating properties of bacteria such as morphology, ecology, genetics and biochemistry, phylogenetics, genomics and many other areas related to bacteria like disease diagnostic testing. Alongside human and animal healthcare providers, they may carry out various functions as medical scientists, veterinary scientists, or diagnostic technicians in locations like clinics, blood banks, hospitals, laboratories and animal hospitals. Bacteriologists working in public health or biomedical research help develop vaccines for public use.


  1. Wassenaar, T. M. "Bacteriology: the study of bacteria". Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  2. MacNeal, Ward J.; Williams, Herbert Upham (1914). Pathogenic micro-organisms; a text-book of microbiology for physicians and students of medicine. P. Blakiston's Sons. pp.  1. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  3. Poindexter, Jeanne Stove (30 November 1986). Methods and special applications in bacterial ecology. Springer. p. 87. ISBN   978-0-306-42346-8 . Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  4. Dahal, Prashant (2022-08-28). "Streak Plate Method - Principle, Types, Methods, Uses". Microbe Notes.
  5. 1 2 "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1905". Archived from the original on 10 December 2006. Retrieved 22 November 2006.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Kreuder‐Sonnen, Katharina (2016). "History of Bacteriology". eLS. Wiley. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1002/9780470015902.a0003073.pub2. ISBN   9780470015902.
  7. 1 2 3 Baron, S. (1996). "Introduction to Bacteriology". In Baron, S. (ed.). Medical Microbiology (4th ed.). University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. ISBN   0-9631172-1-1. PMID   21413299. NBK8120.
  8. "Bacteriologist: Job Description, Duties and Salary". Retrieved 2017-04-03.
  9. "Bacteriologist: Job Description, Duties and Salary". Best Accredited Colleges. 2021-10-20.
  10. "About | American College of Veterinary Microbiologists". Retrieved 2022-12-14.
  11. "Vaccines Working Group". National Institutes of Health (NIH). 2020-09-03. Retrieved 2022-12-14.
  12. Vogel L, Geluk F, Jansen H, Dankert J, van Alphen L (November 1997). "Human lactoferrin receptor activity in non-encapsulated Haemophilus influenzae". FEMS Microbiology Letters. 156 (1): 165–70. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.1997.tb12723.x. PMID   9368377. S2CID   42022492.
  13. Torrico M, Casino P, López A, Peiró S, Ríos M, Ríos S, Montes MJ, Guillén C, Nardi-Ricart A, García-Montoya E, Asensio D, Marqués AM, Piqué N (August 2022). "Improvement of Mueller-Kauffman Tetrathionate-Novobiocin (MKTTn) enrichment medium for the detection of Salmonella enterica by the addition of ex situ-generated tetrathionate". Journal of Microbiological Methods. 199: 106524. doi:10.1016/j.mimet.2022.106524. PMID   35732231. S2CID   249877386.
  14. Chung K. "Ferdinand Julius Cohn (1828–1898): Pioneer of Bacteriology" (PDF). Department of Microbiology and Molecular Cell Sciences, The University of Memphis. Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 July 2011.
  15. Drews, Gerhart (1999). "Ferdinand Cohn, a founder of modern microbiology" (PDF). ASM News. 65 (8): 547–52. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2017.
  16. "Pasteur's Papers on the Germ Theory". LSU Law Center's Medical and Public Health Law Site, Historic Public Health Articles. Archived from the original on 18 December 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2006.
  17. Carter, K. Codell (2005). Childbed fever : a scientific biography of Ignaz Semmelweis, with a new introduction by the authors. Barbara R. Carter. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers. ISBN   1-4128-0467-1. OCLC   56198835.
  18. 'Wash your hands' was once controversial medical advice , National Geographic.
  19. Lakhtakia, R. (February 2014). "The Legacy of Robert Koch". Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal. 14 (1): e37–41. doi:10.12816/0003334. PMC   3916274 . PMID   24516751.
  20. O'Brien SJ, Goedert JJ (October 1996). "HIV causes AIDS: Koch's postulates fulfilled". Current Opinion in Immunology. 8 (5): 613–18. doi:10.1016/S0952-7915(96)80075-6. PMID   8902385.
  21. Thurston AJ (December 2000). "Of blood, inflammation and gunshot wounds: the history of the control of sepsis". The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery. 70 (12): 855–61. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1622.2000.01983.x. PMID   11167573.
  22. Schwartz RS (March 2004). "Paul Ehrlich's magic bullets". The New England Journal of Medicine. 350 (11): 1079–80. doi:10.1056/NEJMp048021. PMID   15014180.
  23. "Biography of Paul Ehrlich". Archived from the original on 28 November 2006. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
  24. Woese CR, Fox GE (November 1977). "Phylogenetic structure of the prokaryotic domain: the primary kingdoms". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 74 (11): 5088–90. Bibcode:1977PNAS...74.5088W. doi: 10.1073/pnas.74.11.5088 . PMC   432104 . PMID   270744.
  25. Hall B (2008). Strickberger's Evolution : the integration of genes, organisms and populations. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett. p. 145. ISBN   978-0-7637-0066-9. OCLC   85814089.