From antibiotics to athletes foot to exploding cans of peas: Bacteriology celebrates a century of discovery

Garret Suen, assistant professor of bacteriology, is an expert in cow rumen microbiology and genetic sequencing. Photo by Jeff Miller.

Congratulations to the Department of Bacteriology, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this Saturday. As this timeline shows, the department’s research has touched pretty much every area of our lives—including our wellness, our food and our itchy feet.

UW microbiologists were key players in developing means to mass produce penicillin, for example, and established the UW as a world leader in nitrogen fixation work. They also solved the puzzle of exploding cans of peas (in 1894 department founder Harry Russell traced the problem to bacteria that fermented sugar and produced gas) and came up with a cure for athletes foot (in 1950 Stanley Knight identified triacetin, licensed and sold under the name Enzactin, which became WARF’s 10th most profitable patent).