September 21, 1906: Death of Robert E. Hungate, Grandfather of Anaerobic Microbiology; 1995: May I fill my birdbath?

September 21, 1906:  Death 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’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.”

September 21, 1995New York Times headline–May Birdbath Be Filled? “Water Curbs Raise Queries. Can a birdbath be refilled from a bucket of water? Can dusty high school football and soccer fields be sprayed from private wells? Can a car be washed during a rainstorm? The answers given callers to New Jersey’s new drought-emergency telephone line: yes, no and yes, but only with the rainwater.

So goes life — and the dos and don’ts of outdoor water use — after government intervenes in a prolonged dry spell and orders people to start conserving. For now, the mandatory water restrictions imposed Sept. 13 apply to about three million people in 119 communities in northeastern New Jersey.

But, officials warn, millions more in New York City and much of the rest of New Jersey will face mandatory rules — and questions — unless far heavier rains than last Sunday morning’s arrive to revive the region’s reservoirs. Yesterday, Gov. Tom Ridge decreed similar mandatory restrictions over much of Pennsylvania, in an area affecting about 6.5 million people.”

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