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Institute for Hygiene and Microbiology


Johannes-Joseph Scherer (1814-1869), who had been professor for Chemistry in Wuerzburg since 1847, already gave lectures in Hygiene twice weekly between 1866 and 1869 before he officially founded the „Medical Institute for Chemistry and Hygiene“ in Maxstraße 4 (the present location of the Mozart Gymnasium). After E. Haeckel, he belonged, together with Virchow and Koelliker, to the famous “Wuerzburg Cloverleaf”.



Nicolaus Alois Geigel (1829-1887) was ordained as professor of the polyclinic and professor for hygiene by the Medical Faculty of the University in May, 1870. He produced a considerable number of publications on Social Hygiene and Public Health Care. In 1885, the department moved from the spatially inadequate area on the ground floor of the building in Klinikstrasse 1, to three large and airy rooms on the ground floor of the medical college building in Koellikerstrasse 2. Geigel died in 1887. In the months before his death, “Privatdozent” Georg Matterstock acted as his locum tenens and, subsequently, continued as head of the now separate polyclinic.


Karl Bernhard Lehmann (1858-1940), a disciple of Pettenkofer, was appointed as chairman (“Extraordinarius”) of the new Institute of Hygiene in 1887 and became full professor in 1894. Together with his assistant R. O. Neumann (who later became professor of hygiene in Hamburg), Lehmann published the “Atlas und Grundriß der Bakteriologie” in 1894. This epic work, which until 1927 had been reprinted six times, formed the basis of bacteriological classification during that era and was used as an exemplary model for many further publications on that topic. Mainly because of the highly important contributions of Lehman in the disciplines of Hygiene and Toxicology, the first annual meeting of the “German Trades Hygiene Union” took place in Wuerzburg in 1924. In 1910, the “Bakteriologische Untersuchungsanstalt” was founded in Wuerzburg and became part of the Institute of Hygiene. In 1922, the Hygiene Institute moved to the premises previously occupied by the Institute for Pathology, in Koellikerstrasse 4. Lehmann retired in November 1932, at the age of 74, and died, highly honored, in 1940.


Maximilian Knorr (1895-1985), a disciple of Kisskalt, succeeded Lehmann in 1932. Under his direction, the institute moved to its current premises in the Josef-SchneiderStrasse 2, Building E1, neighbouring the university hospital. Initially, the building was used as living quarters for professors but was extensively rebuild to now house the Institute of Hygiene and, after its foundation by Knorr, also the “School for Technical Assistants for Medicine”. The main focus of Knorr’s scientific interest was water and soil hygiene and his participation in many projects to improve hygienic standards in Wuerzburg and its vicinity was highly recognized. During the Second World War, Knorr was only sporadically in Wuerzburg. In the aftermath of the devastating bomb attack on Wuerzburg on March 16, 1945, a temporary hygiene assistance unit was opened in a nursery school in Lengfeld. By orders of the American Occupying Forces, Knorr was dismissed from his duties in August 1945 but was later, in 1950, rehabilitated and became chair of the Hygiene Institute of the University of Erlangen. Between 1945 and 1948, until C. A. Sonnenschein succeeded Knorr as the head of the department, Theodor Dimmling (1914-1976), a co-worker of Knorr, led the affairs of the institute as a temporary chairman.


The phage typing system of bacterial classification developed by Curt Albert Sonnenschein (1894-1986), who became head of the institute in 1948, is up to now an important method of explaining the various factors causing epidemics. Sonnenschein also produced important contributions to practical tropical hygiene. During his period in office, the establishment of an experimental and diagnostic Fungal department by Friedrich Staib, a member of his staff and later head of the Mycological Department in the Federal Health Authority in Berlin, took place. In 1948, the “Medizinal-Untersuchungsanstalt” (“Medical Investigative Institution” formerly the “Bacteriological Investigative Institution”) was officially separated from the Institute of Hygiene, moved to new premises in Luitpoldstrasse 1, and was, finally, completely closed in 1983. Several appeals to the State Ministries to reinstate departments for Trade Hygiene and Working Medicine were unsuccessful. In 1964, on the other hand, a chair for Virology was established under Eberhard Wecker. This department initially formed part of the Institute of Hygiene but, in 1970, was separated and moved to its own premises in the Versbacherstrasse. After the establishment of an additional department, for Immunobiology, which was chaired by E. Wecker, Volker ter Meulen became head of the Department for Virology. Sonnenschein retired in 1962 but still led the institute temporarily till 1965.


Heinz P. R. Seeliger (1920-1997) became head of the Institute of Hygiene in April 1965. Under his direction, several building extension projects, mainly in 1965 and 1972, were carried out. In 1982, the now-called “Trade College for Technical Assistants in Medicine” left the Institute, and is currently accommodated in a modern building complex in the Straubmuehlweg. Seeliger, like Lehmann before, was active for many years in international committees concerned with the taxonomy and nomenclature of bacteria. He was President of the „International Union of Microbiological Societies“ (IUMS) and Vice-president of the „International Society for Hygiene and Microbiology“ (ISHAM). He produced many highly recognized contributions in the field of medical mycology and established the Institute as the center for questions of medical mycology in Germany. Seeliger also published important work on Listeriosis and Food Hygiene. Mainly because of this, the Institute became a center for registering types of Salmonella spp. between 1966 and 1985. He also successfully carried forward the engagement of his predecessors in Lomé (Togo/West Africa).


Jürgen Heesemann (born in 1948) came from the laboratory of Professor Laufs in Hamburg and was appointed as head of the Institute in 1989. Under his direction, the necessary modernisation of the laboratories was initiated. In addition, molecular biological and immunological methods were established. In the following years, he and his staff published important contributions to Yersinia-Genetics and fungal phylogenetics. In 1996 Heesemann was appointed as chairman of the Max von Pettenkofer Institute in Munich.