This led him to perform an experiment in which he transferred pus material from the cow pock to human skin. Since the two disease organisms are so closely related, the person vaccinated with cowpox developed immunity to the smallpox virus as well.
The reaction to cowpox was minor compared to the more serious smallpox. Public reaction was mixed; some people thought that the process of vaccination was a work of the devil.
However, many European rulers supported Jenner by encouraging their subjects to be vaccinated. Napoleon and the Empress of Russia were very influential, and in the United States, Thomas Jefferson had a number of his family vaccinated.
Today, almost two hundred years after Jenner developed a vaccination against smallpox, the disease has been eliminated. The World Health Organization announced that smallpox is the first disease to become extinct through human efforts!
The names and personalities of the people described are but a few in the history of microbiology. Many others have made equally outstanding contributions. During the early 1900s, advances were made and formed the foundation for the field of molecular biology.
Microbes were very important in this research. Our increased understanding of the microbe has ushered in a period of rapid advancement in biology. One of the first major contributions came in 1952 when Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase demonstrated by using bacteria and viruses that
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the controlling molecule of cells. Their work with the viruses that infect bacterial cells, bacteriophage, was so significant that the phage become a standard laboratory research organism.
Just one year following this work, James Watson and Francis Crick used this information, and that of others, to propose the now famous double helix molecular structure for DNA. Ten years later, Watson, Crick and a coworker, Wilkins, were awarded a Nobel Prize for the work.
In 1958, George Beadle and Edward Tatum won a Prize for their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical reactions in the cell, the ‘one gene-one enzyme” concept.
The chemical reactions of the cell are controlled by the action of enzymes and it is the DNA that chemically codes the structure of these special protein molecules.
At first glance, some research by microbiologists may seem irrelevant or unrelated to everyday life. But it is a rare occasion when such research ideas do not make their way into our lives in some practical, beneficial form.
The work of Watson, Crick, Beadle, and Tatum has been applied in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Their basic research into DNA has provided the information necessary to develop medicines that control disease-causing organisms and others that regulate basic metabolic processes in our bodies.
The ease with which such theoretical research information becomes a part of science and moves into our lives makes microbiology one of the most applied of all the biological sciences. Advances in microbiology were responsible for eliminating tuberculosis as the number one cause of death in humans.
Between 1937 and 1967, pneumonia and influenza dropped from the second to the fifth position as a cause of death. Further researchers will be engaged constantly to find cures for diseases and improving life in many other ways.