Microbes in History

A bit of history

Post by Hazel Silistre, Alumna of Institut Pasteur Paris, France
Inspired by her international name, Hazel has left Turkey in 2008 to get her university education in Germany and has lived in multiple countries ever since. Her interest to understand life by deciphering bacterial mechanisms led her to pursue a PhD in microbiology. After finishing her PhD at the University of Nottingham, she has left the U.K. and continued her research at Institut Pasteur in Paris. The creative aura of Paris has given her courage to leave the laboratory and follow her passion for writing full-time. She is committed to communicating science to the public and aspires to be a science journalist.


While I was finishing up my experiments for my PhD thesis, there was a time our lab smelled of garlic, onion, and vinegar and you know what these experiments using what we use to cook in our daily lives revealed? A possible way to kill MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which is a Gram + bacterium that is the most common source of skin infections in humans)! I am attaching the paper my colleagues from the University of Nottingham and my internship supervisor from Texas published here. I came across a similar story on the ‘Nobel Prize‘ Facebook page, about the 2015 Medicine Nobel Prize awarded to Youyou Tu, William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura. Apparently, Mrs. Tu went back to the ancient literature for a solution as well. “During the 1960s and 70s, Tu took part in a major Chinese project to develop novel malaria therapies. She scoured ancient literature as old as 1,700 years for clues that ultimately led her to render a remarkably efficient anti-malarial agent, Artemisinin, from the Sweet wormwood plant.” So, perhaps there is more we can learn from the past? 

I am not going to be transcribing ancient literature here, I wish I could. I took a course called Humans and Microbes during my undergraduate studies, my microbiology and history professors were both instructors of the course. I really liked learning about the human-microbe battles from the past, and I think that it would be beneficial and fun at the same time to learn how people who knew so little at the time dealt with diseases and plagues, wouldn’t it?

Further reading

1,000-year-old onion and garlic eye remedy kills MRSA

Harrison, F., Roberts, A.E., Gabrilska, R., Rumbaugh, K., Lee, C., Diggle, S.P. (2015). A 1,000-Year-Old Antimicrobial Remedy with Antistaphylococcal Activity. mBio, 6(4): e01129-15

Wang, J., Xu, C., Wong, Y.K., Li, Y., Liao, F., Jiang, T., Tu, Y. (2019). Artemisinin, the Magic Drug Discovered from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Engineering, 5(1): 32-39