Bacteriology at UW-Madison has a long history of excellence in both basic and applied microbiology, beginning in the later years of the nineteenth century. This tradition continues today. Below, are some of the department’s major contributions to the University of Wisconsin and to the field of microbiology.

2007 Picture of MSBThe department moved into the new Microbial Science Building.
2004 E. B Fred Hall was demolished and the Microbial Sciences Building was built on the same site.
Picture of Blowed Up Fred Hall
1978 Picture of nitrogenaseVinod K. Shah and W. J. Brill identified the critical region of nitrogenase, the enzyme responsible for converting atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia.
1970 Thomas Brock began his pioneering work on the study of life in extreme environments. He isolated Thermus aquaticus, the bacterium which produces Taq polymerase. This enzyme is used in the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), a DNA amplification procedure that is central to much of the biotechnology industry.
1970 T. Kent Kirk began his work on lignin degradation, which is a critical issue for the pulp and paper industry. He was the first to identify the enzymes involved in lignin degradation and he developed detailed descriptions of their catalytic mechanisms.
1966 Picture of Mike_FosterE.M. Foster became head of the Food Research Institute when it moved to Madison. Subsequently, under Professor Foster’s leadership, the Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology was established.
1958 E. L. Tatum became the first Bacteriology alumnus to win the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology (with J. Lederberg and G. W. Beadle).
1955 Picture of fred_hall01A building dedicated to bacteriology research and instruction was built. This was later named E. B. Fred Hall to commemorate Fred’s contributions to the department and the University.
1950 Stanley Knight identified triacetin, a treatment of athlete’s foot and skin fungus. This was licensed to Ayerst and sold under the name Enzactin and became WARF’s 10th most profitable patent.
1947 The departmental name was changed from Agricultural Bacteriology to Bacteriology.
1943 Picture of Elizabeth McCoyElizabeth McCoy became the second woman at the University, outside of the fields of home economics and nursing, to attain the rank of full professor.
1940 During WWII W. H. Peterson (Biochemistry), Marv Johnson (Biochemistry), E. McCoy and R. H. Burris (Biochemistry) worked on aspects of antibiotics production on campus, while K. Raper was working at the Northen Region Research Labs in Peoria and W. B. Sarles was in Washington D.C. and the United Kingdom. Raper’s isolate of Penicillium chrysogenum was the parent strain of all high-producing strains.
1932 Fred, Baldwin and McCoy published the definitive text on nitrogen fixation, “Root-nodule Bacteria and Leguminous Plants”. This is still affectionately known as the “root nodule bible.”
1913 Picture of EB_FredE. B. Fred was hired in the College and began the legacy that made UW a world leader in the study of biological nitrogen fixation.
1910 Hastings manufactured and distributed johnin, a diagnostic of Johne’s disease in cattle, as well the antigen used in the serological test for Bang’s disease in cattle.
1909 Frost developed methods for making dehydrated culture media and invented the Frost gasometer.
1904 Russell and E. F. Turneaure (Engineering) studied the process of sewage treatment and disposal including the survival of bacterial sewage organisms in the Chicago Drainage Canal. They showed that the typhoid fever causative agent did not survive the rigors of travel through the canal and rivers leading to the St Louis water supply.
1901 Russell and S.M. Babcock (Agricultural Chemistry, now Biochemistry) demonstrated the value and utility of cold curing cheese, which greatly improved the quality of Wisconsin cheese as well as the profitability.
1899 Russell and E.G. Hastings demonstrated at industrial scale that lower temperature pasteurization kills tuberculosis bacilli without damaging the appearance of milk, helping increase the use of pasteurization of the Wisconsin milk supply.
1895 Picture of WDFW.D. Frost began his studies on streptococci in milk, developing detection methods and studying antagonism among bacteria.
1894 Picture of Harry_RussellRussell solves the problem of incomplete sterilization of canned peas at Landreth Canning Company in Manitowoc, which changes industrial sterilization practices nationally. He traced the “exploding cans” problem to bacteria that fermented sugar and produced gas and solved the problem by increasing pressure without increasing the sterilization time.
1893 Picture of Harry_RussellThe first bacteriology professor was Harry Russell, who joined the university faculty in 1893.
1889 E. G. Hastings begins work with Russell on pasteurization of milk, cream, whey. He recognized the need for reliable starer cultures in manufacture of Swiss cheese and manufactured and supplied starter cultures to cheese makers.
1886 Picture of BirgeProfessor Edward Birge (Botany) organized the first formal course in bacteriology.
1881 The first UW Bacteriology class was taught by Professor William Trelease, who incorporated bacteriology into the general botany course. This is believed to be the first bacteriology class taught at any American university.