Antonie van Leeuwenhoek: biography of this Dutch scientist.
A summary of the life of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, father of Microbiology.
The world of microbiology conditions our existence, even if we are not able to observe its members with the naked eye. Bacteria are the second largest producers of carbon on Earth, contributing no more and no less than 70 gigatons of global organic matter, i.e. 15% of that present in all ecosystems. From oxygen synthesis to the regulation of biogeochemical cycles, bacteria and archaea are essential for life.
However, you don't have to go very far to discover the functionality of these fascinating microscopic beings. A truly specialized microbial ecosystem proliferates within our gastrointestinal tract, helping us digest plant-based foods, preventing the colonization of pathogens and guiding our immune system in the early stages of life on the path to specialization. From the skin to the gut, we can perceive an undeniable reality: we are, in part, our microorganisms.
To run in the field of microbiological research as we do today, someone had to walk in the past and lay the groundwork for what we now perceive as obvious. Stay with us, because today we tell you all about Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, or Anton van Leeuwenhoek, considered the "Father of Microbiology", through a biography of this scientist..
Brief biography of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
"My work, which I have been doing for a long time, was not pursued to attain the admiration which I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving for knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most men. Therefore, whenever I discovered something remarkable, I thought it my duty to put it down on paper, so that every ingenious person may be informed of it."
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, June 12, 1716.
With this enlightening quote, we dive directly into the life of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, one of the first microscopists and microbiologists to set foot on the face of the earth.. This fascinating thinker was born on October 24, 1632, in the city of Delft (South Holland), the son of a modest family: his father was a basket maker, while his mother's family was a brewer.
We will not dwell too much on the particularities of his childhood, since it is enough to know that we are dealing with a very atypical microbiologist: he had no fortune, he did not obtain a higher education nor did he graduate from university, since he dedicated his first working years to work as a merchant, topographer, wine taster and minor city official.. As you can see, in rare cases, genius is not found among books.
In any case, Leeuwenhoek enjoyed a strong reputation in the city of Delft, as he owned a textile store and did a lot of work for local governmental organizations.
Leeuwenhoek and microscopes
Unlike other thinkers of the time, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's discoveries Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's discoveries rested solely on his ability to make lenses of an exceptional nature.. While working in the textile industry, this genius became interested in these optical devices, as he wanted to perfect his spinning techniques by observing the materials more closely.
There are several ways to create lenses from commonly used materials (such as burning crystals from soft drink containers or forming biconcave areas from bubbles in crystalline materials), but the reality is that , to this day, no one knows how Leeuwenhoek made his lenses.. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is a secret that this thinker took to his grave.
In 1665, the English scientist Robert Hooke published the work Micrographiain which, for the first time in the history of mankind, drawings of images collected through optical microscopy techniques appear. It contained magnified versions of inert objects (such as ice and snow), observations on the animal kingdom, detailed pieces of cork and much more. This work was a real milestone for science, because for the first time we realized as a species that, behind our eyes, there was a whole world to discover.
Leeuwenhoek probably thought the same as we do, as he visited London in 1668 and it is believed that he may have got his hands on a copy of Micrographia. This work describes how a powerful microscope can be made using spherical lenses, very similar to the ones Leeuwenhoek created to analyze his textile samples. to analyze his textile samples: as they say in many parts of the world, hunger and the desire to eat probably came together.
From here, the rest is history. It is believed that throughout his life Leeuwenhoek made more than 500 microscopes, of which only about 10 survive today. Without going any further, the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos exhibited in 2017 in Spain one of these few microscopes dated as "official", being the main piece of "Vermeer's friend. The eye and the lens".
The discoveries of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
To concentrate all that this thinker did in a few lines is a real challenge, since it is not in vain that he is known as the father of microbiology. However, we will mention some of his most relevant discoveries in the following lines.
In 1674, Leeuwenhoek made what may be his most important discovery: dating the existence of microscopic unicellular organisms.. In a letter written this year, the thinker described in text the observations he had detected while microscopically analyzing a sample of water from a lake, including an extremely detailed description of specimens of Spirogyraprotists with chloroplasts arranged in the shape of a helix.
During the same year, Leeuwenhoek observed under the microscope a sample of Blood from a lake. observed under the microscope a blood sample with red blood cells, which had been discovered 6 years earlier.. With the magnificence of his lenses, he was able to describe the atypical shape of these blood cells, whose functionality we know perfectly today.
In addition to all these essential discoveries, Leeuwenhoek described for the first time bacterial plaque (from samples from his own mouth), various types of bacteria, the existence of vacuoles in plant cells, the spermatozoon and its functionality, and the nature of muscle tissue.. All these things may seem obvious today, but without a doubt, each discovery in his day was a revolution for the scientific community.
The discovery of spermatozoa is also cited as one of the major milestones of his career, because thanks to him we know today that two haploid cells (egg and sperm) must unite to give rise to a functional zygote. He also found many other beings of microscopic nature that inhabit ecosystems, such as various nematodes and rotifers, which remain under investigation even today.
The legacy of this scientist, and final reflection
It is estimated that, by the date of his death (1723, at the age of 90), Leeuwenhoek had written more than 560 letters to the public. had written more than 560 letters to the Royal Society (Royal Society of London for the Advancement of Natural Science) and other scientific institutions.. In these writings, he collected each and every one of his observations, with drawings and detailed descriptions. He is known to have sent letters to these institutions up to practically the time of his death, including descriptions of the very disease that led to his death.
The famous London biochemist Nick Lane describes Leeuwenhoek as follows: "the first even to think of looking-certainly, the first with the power to see". He was right, for the father of microbiology showed us that, in many cases, intrinsic genius and a thirst for knowledge are enough to make a difference in the world, beyond studies, university degrees and purchasing power.
Leeuwenhoek opened the door to the world of the microscopicall thanks to the lenses he was able to make and his tireless desire to know. A día de hoy, no queda más que preguntarnos: ¿cuántas cosas se nos escaparán como especie, al no haber sido observadas por los ojos adecuados y bajo el prisma pertinente?
- Castellani, C. (1973). Spermatozoan biology from Leeuwenhoek to Spallanzani. Journal of the History of Biology, 37-68.
- CORLISS, J. O. (1975). Three centuries of protozoology: a brief tribute to its founding father, A. van Leeuwenhoek of Delft. The Journal of protozoology, 22(1), 3-7.
- Ford, B. J. (1981). The van Leeuwenhoek specimens. Notes and records of the Royal Society of London, 36(1), 37-59.
- Gest, H. (2004). The discovery of microorganisms by Robert Hooke and Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, fellows of the Royal Society. Notes and records of the Royal Society of London, 58(2), 187-201.
- Harris, D. F. (1921). Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek the First Bacteriologist. The Scientific Monthly, 12(2), 150-160.
- Lane, N. (2015). The unseen world: reflections on Leeuwenhoek (1677)‘Concerning little animals’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370(1666), 20140344.
- Porter, J. R. (1976). Antony van Leeuwenhoek: tercentenary of his discovery of bacteria. Bacteriological reviews, 40(2), 260.