March 3, 1906: Birth of Robert E. Hungate, Grandfather of Anaerobic Microbiology; 1879: U.S. Geological Survey Established; 1899: Rivers and Harbors Act Passed by Congress

Robert E. Hungate

March 3, 1906:  Birth of Robert E. Hungate, Grandfather of Anaerobic Microbiology

“The development of methods to grow anaerobes was an important stepping stone in microbiology, one that paved the way for the discovery of many new bacteria and radically changed our understanding of microbial metabolism. Many of these discoveries could not have been possible without the pioneering work of Robert E. Hungate. Affectionately referred to as “Mr. Rumen” or even “Bob” by his students and colleagues, Hungate was the first to develop refined methods to grow strict anaerobes. Accordingly, he dedicated his career to advance new techniques to culture and study anaerobes in anoxic environments. The ‘Hungate technique’ is widely known and used in many labs today, but I believe that his life and scientific impact deserve greater appreciation by today’s young microbiologists….

Hungate tubes

Hungate’s method to cultivate anaerobes, now commonly known by his name, involves several steps to make a growth medium with a reduced anoxic en­vi­ron­ment in a sealed airtight test tube. First, a freshly auto­claved growth medium is heated to maintain a steady boil. Second, after the medium is distributed into rubber-stoppered ‘Hungate tubes, it is ‘sparged’ with a steady stream of an anoxic gas (usually a mixture of CO2, H2, or N2) passed through the medium via a metal cannula. The tube is then quickly sealed with a rubber stopper, using a screw cap to prevent any oxygen from entering. Third, molten agar is added and the tube is rolled horizontally over cold water to produce a thin layer of solidified medium over the inner glass surface. Using a needle and syringe, the inoculum can then be injected through the rubber stopper. To observe the growth of cellulolytic bacteria, an opaque suspension of cellulose is added to the medium beforehand. A clearing around cellulose-degrading colonies can be easily seen after incubation.”

March 3, 1879: U.S. Geological Survey established by President Rutherford B. Hayessigning a bill authorizing money for the organization. “The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.”

March 3, 1899: Rivers and Harbors Act (also called the Refuse Act) passed by Congress.“The act is primarily aimed at preservation of navigable waters, but under Section 13 it becomes unlawful to throw garbage and refuse into navigable waters except with a Corps of Engineers permit. One exception is for liquid sewage from streets and sewers. Violators would be fined up to $2,500 and imprisoned up to one year. The new law consolidated four previous laws and had far-reaching implications. Dumping of oil, acids or other chemicals into streams was now prohibited insofar as navigation was obstructed, and in several cases the Supreme Court interpreted obstruction in a broad rather than narrow sense.”


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