Skip to Main Content



Microbiology traces its beginnings back to the invention of the microscope. Father and son Dutch spectacle makers Hans and Zacharias Jansen are credited with inventing the first actual functioning compound microscope in the 1590s. Another early and important event occurred when Dutch microscopist Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed bacteria and protozoans in 1676. Leeuwenhoek ground lenses to make his own microscopes to view minuscule living things, and he recorded his research findings.

The germ theory of disease evolved in the late 1800s when Louis Pasteur and his contemporaries showed that germs cause diseases. This led to the development of microbiology. To help in diagnosing, treating, and preventing infectious disease, hospitals began using microbiologists to culture, or grow, disease-causing microorganisms from patients.

While microbiology is generally used to benefit humans, animals, plants, and the environment, there is another side to it: bioterrorism. Infectious microorganisms in the wrong hands can be used as weapons in biological warfare.

According to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), about one-third of the Nobel prizes in physiology or medicine awarded in the twentieth century went to microbiologists.

Related Professions