MadSci Network: Science History

Re: Re: who named germs as 'germ'?

Date: Mon May 5 18:22:24 2008
Posted By: Art Anderson,
Area of science: Science History
ID: 1203558766.Sh

The word Germ comes from biology and is the cell from which other cells or a plant may "germinate." As this word was used to describe bacteria, protozoa and other microscopic single and multicellular organisms which might be also named animalicules. Anton van Leeuwenhoek used this name to describe single cell organisms that he saw in his early microscope. He was Dutch and not Polish but that does not necessarily mean that a polish person named bacteria germs.

Much later on in the 1890s a polish person named Dmitri Iwanowski discovered the first virus, tobacco mozaic virus, but this is not technically a germ as germs survived and grew on liquid media while viruses need living host cells in order to survive.

Before bacteria could be seen by any means Germs was a word because the common belief of the time was that what we call bacteria, especially the kinds that cause food, milk and wine to spoil were thought to spontaneoulsly germinate from foul air.

The Etymology Dictionary ( search=germ&searchmode=none) defines germ as:
germ (n.)
1644, "rudiment of a new organism in an existing one," from M.Fr. germe, from L. germen (gen. germinis) "sprout, bud," from PIE base *gen- "to beget, bear" (cf. Skt. janman "birth, origin;" see genus). The original sense is preserved in wheat germ and germ of an idea; sense of "seed of a disease" first recorded 1803; that of "harmful microorganism" dates from 1871.

Both Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur contributed to the Germ Theory of Disease but the word Germ already existed in Biology.

I would hasten to guess that a French or German scientist coined the term Germ because of the etymology places the term in 1644 which was before Anton Van Leeuwenhoek saw what we today call germs in 1676.

Etymology: French germe, from Latin germin-, germen, from gignere to beget more at kin
Date: 1644
1 a: a small mass of living substance capable of developing into an organism or one of its parts b: the embryo with the scutellum of a cereal grain that is usually separated from the starchy endosperm during milling
2: something that initiates development or serves as an origin : rudiments, beginning
3: microorganism; especially : a microorganism causing disease

I hope this helps.

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