Louis Pasteur And The Importance Of Microbiology


As time passed towards the 21st Century, the continuous enhancement of theories surrounding Microbiology has allowed people to develop an understanding of its impact on contemporary society. Cavicchioli (2019) defines microorganisms as any microscopic organism not visible to the naked eye which exist in a unicellular, multicellular, or collective form. The 19th Century saw a revolution in beliefs behind the origins of microbiology due to the establishment of French microbiologist Louis Pasteur’s “The Germ Theory”. Thus, the study of microorganisms and its importance to modern society must be acknowledged.

Pre-Development of the Germ Theory

Before Pasteur established the Germ Theory, there existed a widespread belief whereby organisms appeared out of nowhere; known as Spontaneous Generation. Schaechter (2009) explores this idea by stating how people once assumed that living things originated from non-living materials. Avise (2014) supports this by claiming the Romans were a nation who believed maggots came from meat and amphibians originated from swamps. Moreover, Berche (2015) reveals that it was philosopher Aristotle who established the idea of Spontaneous Generation. As a result, Aristotle convinced the majority of the society in this belief for many centuries.

The controversy surrounding this idea began to rise during the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century. However, in 1668, Francesco Redi made the first attempt to refute this theory. Parke (2014) analyses Redi’s beliefs in Spontaneous Generation and regards his experiments as a critical contribution to the downfall of this theory. In his experiment, Redi placed different types of meat into two jars but left them open and placed the same types of meat into two jars with closed tops. Maggots developed in the open jars but did not develop in the paper-sealed jars, demonstrating that meat does not generate insects. However, Redi lost hope in his experiments and began supporting the theory of Spontaneous Generation as scholars condemned his claim of tress being able to produce wasps.

Establishment of the Germ Theory

Louis Pasteur’s most significant contribution to society’s understanding of infectious diseases was the eventual disproval of the theory of Spontaneous Generation with the Germ Theory. Bastian (1876) describes the Germ Theory as diseases arising due to the presence and propagation of minute organisms having no part or share in its regular economy.

Bradley (2015) reassures that Pasteur’s Swan-Neck Flask experiment, in the 1860s, enabled for the theory to be established. In Pasteur’s experiment, he used flasks with bent necks so that air could not travel through without getting stuck. After filling the flasks with broth, he sterilised the liquids by boiling them at high temperatures. One of the flasks had its neck removed, and the other did not. Pasteur showed that only the flask with an open neck was able to grow bacteria in the broth, whereas the other flask remained uncontaminated. Pasteur demonstrated that microbial growth was a result of particles in the air and could not arise spontaneously in sterile environments. His findings contributed to the scientific community accepting that infectious diseases must be a result of microorganisms originating from some external source. Conversely, Strick (2016) confirms that the scientists Gilbert Child and John Bennett attempted to criticise the theory as they were sceptical of Pasteur’s findings. However, their views became insignificant, thus leading to the theory existing until today.

Significance of the Germ Theory

The disproval of Spontaneous Generation resulted in the reformation of microbiology and science. Egger (2012) acknowledges the Germ Theory and its immediate impact in clinical medicine. Egger believes that modern-day society has enough knowledge to control any disease outbreaks effectively. Gray (2014) supports Egger’s view on the significance of this theory. He admits that it is impossible to develop modern-day remedies, such as antibacterials and antivirals, without having the correct knowledge on the characteristics of infectious diseases. The discovery of the Germ Theory also allowed people to realise the importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of diseases, disinfectants being able to eliminate germs, as well as successfully controlling most epidemics. The MNT Editorial Team (2018) confirms this by reassuring that the 19th and 20th centuries saw breakthroughs in infection control. During the 19th Century, around 30% of deaths were due to infections. This figure fell to less than 4% by the end of the 20th Century. Hence, the Germ Theory has played a pivotal role in improving the health status of individuals across the globe.


All individuals must acknowledge the origins of microorganisms and its role in today’s society; particularly Louis Pasteur’s work in Microbiology. Pasteur’s Germ Theory has enabled society to gain an insight into the theory’s pre-development as well as its contributions to contemporary society. Although there were many attempts to disprove this theory, it remains as one of the most influential theories in society and the world of Microbiology.

16 December 2021
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