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Syringe used by Joseph Lister in his experiments on the souring of milk, United Kingdom, 1871-1878

This glass syringe was used by Joseph Lister (1827-1912) in his experiments on the souring of milk. He discovered that milk straight from the animal is generally free from bacteria. But when examining sour milk he found that the micro-organisms present were of a type which he had previously named Bacterium lactis. The syringe could measure one or more hundredths of a minim – a minim being 0.062 ml. Such accurate measurements meant that Lister could calculate the number of bacteria in as little as one fiftieth of a minim. Lister’s work on the souring of milk is rarely mentioned as it is normally eclipsed by his work on antisepsis.

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    Glossary: microbiology

    Branch of biology that deals with micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and their effects.

    Glossary: micro-organism

    A tiny single-celled living organism too small to be seen by the naked eye. Micro-organisms that cause disease are called bacteria.

    Glossary: antisepsis

    The practice of using antiseptic drugs to eliminate harmful micro-organisms.

    Glossary: syringe

    An instrument used for injecting or withdrawing fluids. The open end of the syringe may be fitted with a hypodermic needle for injection into the bloodstream.

    Glossary: bacteria

    Micro-organisms which can cause disease but have an important role in global ecology.