Robert Heinrich Herman Koch was born December 11, 1843 in Clausthal, Hanover, Germany.
At the age of 19, Koch entered the University of Göttingen, studying natural science.
However, after two semesters, he decided to change his area of study to medicine, as he aspired to be a physician.
Koch also began to conduct research at the Physiological Institute, where he studied succinic acid secretion. This would eventually form the basis of his dissertation before graduating in January of 1866.
In of July 1867, Koch married Emma Adolfine Josephine Fraatz, and the two had a daughter, Gertrude, in 1868.
Koch then served as a surgeon during the Franco-Prussian War from July of 1870 to May of 1871.
Following his service, he worked as a physician in Wollstein (now Wolsztyn, Poland).
Then in 1876, Robert Koch began working with anthrax (the Greek word for coal because of the black skin lesions developed by victims). He went on to discover the causative agent of anthrax which led to the formation of a generic set of postulates which can be used in the determination of the cause of any infectious disease.
Robert Koch then accepted a position as a government adviser with the Imperial Department of Health in 1880.
During this time, he published a report in which he stated the importance of pure cultures in isolating disease-causing organisms and explained the necessary steps to obtain these cultures, methods which are summarized in Koch’s four postulates.
These postulates, which not only outlined a method for linking cause and effect of an infectious disease but also established the significance of laboratory culture of infectious agents, are listed here:
- The organism must always be present, in every case of the disease.
- The organism must be isolated from a host containing the disease and grown in pure culture.
- Samples of the organism taken from pure culture must cause the same disease when inoculated into a healthy, susceptible animal in the laboratory.
- The organism must be isolated from the inoculated animal and must be identified as the same original organism first isolated from the originally diseased host.
Tuberculosis, in the past also called consumption, is an infectious disease that in many cases can be fatal.
During his time as the government advisor with the Imperial Department of Health in Berlin in the 1880s, Robert Koch became interested in tuberculosis research.
At the time, it was widely believed that tuberculosis was an inherited disease.
However, Koch was convinced that the disease was caused by a bacterium and was infectious, and tested his four postulates using guinea pigs.
Through these experiments, he found that his experiments with tuberculosis satisfied all four of his postulates.
Then on March 24, 1882, Robert Koch published his findings on tuberculosis, in which he reported the causative agent of the disease to be the slow-growing Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
From 1885 to 1890, Koch served as an administrator and professor at Berlin University.
Koch’s marriage with Emma Fraatz ended in 1893, and later that same year, he married actress Hedwig Freiberg.
His work with Tuberculosis won Koch the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1905.
Additionally, Koch’s research on tuberculosis, along with his studies on tropical diseases, won him the Prussian Order Pour le Merite in 1906 and the Robert Koch medal, established to honor the greatest living physicians, in 1908.
Then Robert Koch suffered a heart attack on April 9, 1910, and never made a complete recovery.
On May 27, 1910, only three days after giving a lecture on his tuberculosis research at the Berlin Academy of Sciences, Robert Koch died in Baden-Baden at the age of 66.
Following his death, the Institute named its establishment after him in his honor.
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