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1886 Theodore Escherich describes a bacterium which

he called “bacterium coli commune” and which was later to be called Escherichia coli. A strain he isolated in 1886 is added to the collection

upon its founding (NCTC 86).

1887 Julius Petri invents

the agar-coated glass dish

for culturing bacteria; earlier

attempts at culturing involved

potato slices

and gelatin.

1890 German scientist

Robert Koch provides proof of

germ theory by injecting pure

cultures of the Anthrax bacilli

into mice.

1900 Almwroth Wright

isolates NCTC 160 Salmonella

enterica subsp. enterica

serotype Typhi from the

spleen of a typhoid patient

during the Boer War. His

wartime experiences later

lead him to

persuade the

armed forces to

produce 10 million

vaccine doses for

WWI troops in

northern France.

1915  Isolation of the very

first bacterial strain registered

in the collection. NCTC 1 is

a strain of Shigella flexneri

recovered from Private Ernst

Cable, a WWI soldier who

died from dysentery. It is

resistant to penicillin

and erythromycin

even though it was

isolated before

the discovery of


1920s Selman

Waksman and Albert

Schatz lead a systematic

effort to screen soil

bacteria for antimicrobial

compounds. NCTC later

acquires the Streptomyces

griseus strain (NCTC 4523)

from which they isolated


1920 NCTC is

established to “provide

a trustworthy source of

authentic bacteria for

use in scientific studies.”

Frederick William

Andrewes deposits the

first cultures.

1928 Alexander Fleming

accidentally discovers

penicillin. He returns from

vacation and notices that a

culture plate left lying out

had become overgrown

with staphylococci colonies,

except where mold was

growing. He explores further

after his former assistant

Merlin Price reminds him,

“That’s how you discovered

lysozyme.” Over the next 20

years, Fleming deposits 16

samples with NCTC,

including a sample

of Haemophilus

influenza isolated

from his own nose in

November 1935.

1930s  NCTC introduces

freeze-drying of samples

to ensure longevity and

streamline storage and


1930s Fritz Kauffman and

Phillip White co-develop

a scheme for classifying

salmonellae by serotype.

1977 CDC researchers Joseph McDade and

Charles C. Shepard isolate Legionella

pneumophilia (NCTC 11230 and

11192) as the bacterial pathogen

behind the outbreak of a new

pulmonary disease at a convention in


1969 Don Brenner and colleagues

establish DNA hybridization as a more

reliable basis for classifying clinical

isolates of Enterobacteriaceae. He

uses the new method to replace

type strains with more representative

specimens and identify numerous new

microbial species, including Moellerella

wisconsensis (NCTC 12132), Leminorella

grimontii (NCTC 12152), Enterobacter

asburiae (NCTC 12123), and Citrobacter

braakii (NCTC 13630).

1961 NCTC curator Samuel

Cowan and Kenneth Steel

publish ‘Diagnostic Tables for

the Common Medical Bacteria’

in the Journal of Hygiene.

Demand is so great the journal

reprints and distributes them in

pamphlet form. The work forms

the basis of Cowan & Steel’s

Manual for the Identification

of Medical Bacteria, first

published in 1965 and a benchtop

staple for years to come.

1949 NCTC begins a 10-

year effort to characterize every

organism in the collection

1953 Pioneering food

safety microbiologist

Betty Constance Hobbs

publishes a study establishing

Clostridium perfringens as the

cause of many outbreaks of

food poisoning. She eventually

deposits more than 20 NCTC

strains of bacteria associated

with food-borne illness.

1947 Edward Tatum and

Joshua Lederberg produce the

first gene map of E. coli K12

(NCTC 10538). Despite being

one of the most intensively

studied organisms in the 20th

century, no one definitively

knows why it is called “K12”.

1947 NCTC focus shifts from

a general microbial collection

to bacteria of medical or

veterinary interest.

1981 The European

Culture Collections’

Organization, of which

NCTC is a member, is


1987 The first automated

DNA sequencing instrument,

invented by Lloyd Smith, is

commercialized by Applied


1982 Future Nobel Prize

winner Barry Marshall drinks

a culture of the Helicobacter

pylori (NCTC 11638 and

11639) to prove his theory

that most


ulcers are

caused by


1995 Craig Venter, Hamilton Smith, Claire

Fraser, and colleagues at TIGR elucidate

the first complete genome sequence of a

microorganism, Haemophilus influenza, and

submit the sequence to NCBI.

2003 Cornell

University scientists

led by Watt Webb

and Harold Craighead

publish the first report

of using arrays of zeromode


for single-molecule


2011 PacBio ships its first commercial

SMRT Sequencing system, introducing

scientists to the long-read sequencing

platform that will ultimately become the gold

standard for generating complete, closed

microbial genomes.

The largest recorded outbreak of foodborne

hemolytic-uremic syndrome, eventually linked

to German-grown sprouts, occurs in Europe.

The organism responsible, a Shiga toxic E. coli

(NCTC 13562).

2014 NCTC and Wellcome Sanger

Institute (WSI) launch a five-year

project to sequence 3,000 bacterial

strains from the collection using PacBio

sequencing technology.

Sanger scientists

publish the genome

of NCTC 1, generated with SMRT

Sequencing, and compare it to other

S. flexneri isolates collected in 1954,

1984, and 2002.

2018 NCTC scientists Sarah

Alexander and Mohammed-

Abbas Fazal complete the

extraction of DNA from more

than 3000 NCTC species and

samples are delivered to WSI

for sequencing using PacBio



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