an extensive history


Humans have been taking advantage of microbes for a very long time and, in turn, these microscopic organisms have altered the course of human history many times over. 

Ancient History

~28,700 years ago

Earliest evidence of food fermentation (roots and tubers fermented with microorganisms), in the Solomon Islands


~ 9,000 years ago

Evidence of milk fermentation in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, as well as ancient Veda scriptures and Ayurvedic texts 
(Indian subcontinent) 

~ 13,000 years ago

Earliest evidence of beer fermentation in Natufian culture
(ancient Israel)


~ 5000 years ago

Beer production in ancient China


~ 2500 years ago

Ancient antibiotics: fungus that grows on soybean curd is used to cure boils

~ 9000 years ago

Evidence of fermented rice, honey and fruit beverages in ancient China



~ 2500 years ago

Evidence of soybean fermentation to produce tofu in ancient China


~2000 years ago

Ancient Nubians produce beer with high levels of tetracycline


>  2000 years ago

Mouldy bread used as topical treatment for infected wounds (China, Greece, Serbia, Egypt)  

Early Microbiology

Early 1600s

Microscope invented



Anton Van Leeuwenhoek uses microscope to discover tiny ‘animalcules’


Robert Koch develops technique to isolate pure bacterial culture


Louis Pasteur presents his ‘germ theory’ that microorganisms can cause disease


20th century


Howard Florey and Ernst Chain discover penicillin can treat bacterial infections in humans



Penicillin is mass produced for the first time


The genetic code is deciphered: revealing how the order of nucleic acids in DNA and RNA determines how proteins are built



First animal gene is cloned in bacteria


1970s – 80s

Development of DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis, as well as genetic engineering techniques


Discovery of penicillin (Alexander Fleming)



Structure of DNA discovered



Human insulin is produced in E. coli bacteria



Frances Arnold develops ‘directed evolution’ to improve the function of enzymes and develop new catalysts



E. coli bacteria genome sequenced


Bakers’ yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) genome sequence is completed

21st Century


Human genome sequence completed 
(13 years in total)



CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool developed



Frances Arnold shares Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her directed evolution methods, which are now used for biomanufacturing many products from pharmaceuticals to biofuels


Human genome can now be sequenced in approximately one day


Expected completion of synthetic yeast genome, Yeast 2.0






 Advanced Biomanufacturing, AIBN. This article is an extract from AIBN's Small Things Big Changes Volume 1

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