Thursday, May 10, 2012

Petri dish, named after German bacteriologist Richard Julius Petri

Petri dishes were named by German microbiologist Robert Koch (1843-1910) for his assistant Julius Richard Petri (1852-1921), who invented them [1-3]. In studying bacteria such as the one responsible for tuberculosis, Koch used Petri plates that were filled with nutritional agar developed by his wife. Petri dishes allow the growth of bacteria into colonies on solid medium under reproducible and sterile conditions.

Petri was trained as a physician, received his doctorate in medicine in 1876 and developed an interest in bacteriology under Koch's direction at the Kaiserliches Gesundsheitsamt,  the NIOSH version of  the German Empire (Deutsches Reich, 1871-1918). In addition to dish culturing, Petri developed a technique for producing copies of bacterial strains (cloning), still used today [2].

In his fascinating story of archaea and biotechnology,  Tim Friend highlights the role of petri dishes for identifying and studying microbes. The revolution of cultivating microorganisms in these culture dishes followed the invention of the microscope and preceded the more recent invention and evolution of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology for genetic fingerprinting [1].

Synonyms: Petri plate, cell culture dish.
French term: la boîte de Petri.
German term: die Petrischale.
Spanish term: la placa de Petri
Keywords: laboratory equipment, history of science, microbiology, bacteriology.

References and more to explore
[1] Tim Friend: The Third Domain. The Untold Story of Archaea and the Future of Biotechnology. Joseph Henry Press, Washington, D.C., 2007; page 37.
[2] enotes: Petri, Richard Julius (1852-1921) [].
[3] science museum: Robert Koch (1843-1910) [].


  1. Interesting doodle by google for Julius Richard Petri birthday

  2. The culinary connection for us today is that this is the Empress for whom dishes styled ‘a l’Imperatrice’ are named. These dishes classically contain rice, although I have no idea why this is so. Perhaps the Empress had a special liking for it.Social for PTA DStv