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How a few scientists transformed the way we think about disease - Tien Nguyen

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For several centuries, people though diseases were caused by wandering clouds of poisonous vapor. We now know that this theory is pretty ridiculous, and that diseases are caused by specific bacteria. But how did we get to this new idea of germ theory? Tien Nguyen describes the work of several scientists who discredited a widely accepted theory in a way that was beneficial to human health.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Tien Nguyen
  • Collaborator Office of Research Integrity, David M. Morens
  • Director Brandon Denmark
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Dr. John Snow is considered as one of the fathers of epidemiology. He became interested in the cause of cholera after treating many patients afflicted with the disease. More details about his life and work can be found
here.

Dr. Robert Koch’s work in germ theory actually began with the study of Anthrax and led to the development of experiments that would link a bacterium to a disease. In these experiments, Dr. Koch would isolate a pure culture of the bacterium from an infected animal like a cow, and then infect a different animal, like a mouse. Once the mouse succumbed to the disease, he would re-isolate the bacterium from the mouse and therefore prove the connection between the germ and the disease. Read here about his groundbreaking work for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1905.

Louis Pasteur
was also a major figure in germ theory and contributed to many fields of study, including chemistry and medicine. His development of a chicken cholera vaccine was actually discovered by accident! The story is that he asked an assistant to inoculate some chickens with cholera, but the assistant forgot and after returning from vacation, inoculated the chickens with the cholera that had been sitting out all during that time. The chickens were weakened but didn’t die. When he gave them a fresh dose, many of them survived. His many discoveries greatly benefitted human health and a more details can be found here.

Interestingly, Koch and Pasteur were both leading figures in germ theory but were also engaged in an intense rivalry. This contention arose in part from nationalism, competition, differing scientific ideas and a translation mistake. Go here to get the full scoop.

This video was created with the support of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity: http://ori.hhs.gov.

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Tien Nguyen
  • Collaborator Office of Research Integrity, David M. Morens
  • Director Brandon Denmark
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

Share

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