Concept and Historical Development of Environmental Microbiology

Concept and Historical Development of Environmental Microbiology

Environmental microbiology is the study of the composition and physiology of microbial communities in the environment. Here in this case environment means the soil, water, air and sediment covering the planet. We can also include the plants and animals that inhabit this area. Environmental microbiology also includes the study of the microorganism that is present in the artificial environment like bioreactors. This field of microbiology was started as a result of experiments done by Martinus Beijerinck and Sergei Winograd sky . The life of microbes is amazingly diverse and microorganisms literally covered our planet.

In 1676, Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed the bacteria and another microorganism by using a single lens microscope which was made by himself. He considers as the first person who observed the microbes while Robert Hooke made the first attempt to record the microscopic observation of microbes of the fruiting bodies of molds, in 1665. The observation of microbes for the first time by using a microscope was done by Dutch draper and haberdasher. It has, however, been suggested that Jesuit priest called Athanasius Kircher was the first to observe microorganism. He was among the first to design the magic lanterns for projection purposes, so he must have been well acquainted with the properties of lenses.

The field of bacteriology (later a subdiscipline of microbiology ) was developed in the 19th century by Ferdinand Cohn, a botanist whose studies on algae and photosynthesis bacteria led him to describe several bacteria such as bacillus. A scheme for taxonomic classification of bacteria was first to formulate by Cohn. He also discovers spores. Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch were considered as the contemporaries of Cohn, so they are often considered to be the father of microbiology and medical microbiology respectively. Pasteur was most famous for his series of experiments which was done by him to disprove the theory of spontaneous generation. This helps him to solidify his identity in microbiology. The method for the food preservation (pasteurization ) and vaccines against several diseases such as anthrax, fowl, cholera and rabies were first designed by Pasteur. Koch is best known for his contribution to the germ theory of diseases which proves that specific disease was caused by the specific pathogens or pathogenic microorganism. A series of criteria was developed by him which later on well known as the Koch postulates. Koch was one of the first scientists to focus on the isolation of bacteria in a pure culture which results in the description of several novel bacteria including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the causative agent of tuberculosis.

Pasteur and Koch are often known as the founders of microbiology due to their work. The true diversity of microbial world was not accurately shown by their work, due to their entire focus on microorganism which has the direct medical relevance. The work of the founder of microbiology Beijerinck and Sergei Winogradsky shows the true breadth of microbiology until the late 19th century was revealed. The discovery of viruses and the development of enrichment culture techniques are the two major contributions done by the Beijerinck. The basic principle of virology was established by his work on the tobacco mosaic. It was his development of enrichment culturing that had the most immediate impact on microbiology by allowing of cultivation of microbes in a very wide range having the different physiologies. The concept of a chemo-litho trophy and to reveal an essential role played by a microorganism in geochemical processes first developed by Winogradsky. The first isolation and description of both nitrifying and nitrogen fixation bacteria were done by him.

Concepts of microbes

For the word microorganism, it has the Greek literal meaning i.e micro – means small and organisms – means organism. An organism that is microscopic or usually too small to be seen by the naked human eye is known as a microbe. The study of science that deals with the study of microorganism is called microbiology. A discovery of microorganism in 1675 was begun by Anton van Leeuwenhoek discovery by the use of his own design microscope. The microorganism is widely diverse and includes varieties of groups such as bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, as well as other many microscopic plants and animals like plankton and most popularly known animals such as the planarian and the amoeba. Viruses and prions which are often not included by many scientists. They classified them in the group of not - living. The microorganism may be singled or doubled cell. But many of the microorganism are of singled cell or unicellular. While some of the double celled microorganism are microscopic. The unicellular protest, bacteria, and some multicellular microorganism are visible to naked eyes. In the biosphere, if there is present of water, hot springs, ocean floor, high atmospheric temperature, deep rock inside the earth crust, there will be the presence of the microorganism. Due to the activities like of decomposer microorganism are essential for the nutrient recycling in the ecosystem. The microorganism is considered as the vital part of the nitrogen cycle. As the recent studies indicates that microorganism contributes the important role in the precipitation and weather.

Microbes are both harmful and useful. Many microbes are exploited for the traditional food and beverages preparation by the people. However, pathogenic microbes are very harmful because they can invade and grow within other organism causing various kinds of diseases which can kill millions of people, other animals and as well as plants. The first form of life that have been existing in earth was considered to be single-celled microorganism approximately about 3 to 4 billion years ago. So in the history of life on our earth, the most form of life present is the only microorganism in the earlier period. Bacteria, algae, fungi have been identified in the earlier most period which indicates the morphology of many another microorganism which also represent that along with the time their morphology was also differentiated from each other.

Most of the microorganism can reproduce rapidly. Bacteria can reproduce or can exchange its gene freely by the process of conjugation, transformation, transduction in between the widely diverse species. The evolution of the microorganism in the rapid form helps in the formation of super-bugs which is known as the pathogenic bacteria that are much more resistant to the antibiotics.


Miller, Jr. G.T. Living in the Environment. Wadsworth Publication, 2003.

S.C., Santee. Environmental Science. India, New Center: New Center Book Agency (P) Ltd, 2004.

T., Richard. Environmental Science Towards a Sustainable Future. India: PHI (P) Ltd., 2008.

  • Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed the bacteria and another microorganism by using a single lens microscope which was made by  himself.
  • Pasteur and Koch are often known as the founders of microbiology due to their work. The true diversity of microbial world was not accurately 
  • Microbes are both harmful and useful. Many microbes are exploited for the traditional food and beverages preparation by the people.

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