"Specificity" in Microbiology and Immunochemistry between 1880 and 1930


  • Gilberto Corbellini Section of History of Medicine Sapienza - University of Rome, I


History of microbial culture , Microbial species , Koch’s postulates, Discoveries of the immunological phenomena


During the second half of the XIX Century, microbiological sciences acquired a set of conceptual, methodological and technological tools that radically transformed theoretical and empirical knowledge of the microorganisms, with particular regard to their biochemical properties and their etiopathological role in infectious diseases. During that period, theoretical and experimental researches in general microbiology and immunochemistry addressed the nature and empirical appearances of microbes, both pathogens and not, and the origins of chemical properties of immune sera. In other words, microbiologists tried operatively explaining the origins of the morphological, physiological, and pathogenetic differences between the microbial species. At the same time physiologists and biochemists investigated the chemical basis of the selective or specific interactions between microorganisms or their chemical components and humoral factors contained into the sera produced by the body in response to the contact with microbes. During the half a century, between 1880 and 1930, qualitative and quantitative experimental studies demonstrated that the specificity of microbiological phenomena depended on the biology of microbes and that the specificity of immune reactions hinged upon the biochemical properties of special molecules synthesized by some physiological system which can recognize and react against any foreign substance.