“Was Joseph Lister the discoverer of Listeria monocytogenes?

No, wrong century….

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) was a surgeon who pioneered anti-septic surgery while working at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (where I did my microbiology training…)


In 1867, Lister utilised carbolic acid (phenol) to sterilise both surgical instruments and disinfect wounds, leading to reductions in post-operative infections. All this was done long before the “germ theory” of infection was completely understood. Impressive indeed.

So who discovered Listeria monocytogenes?

The credit for this goes to a man called Everitt Murray (1890-1964) Murray was born in South Africa, but discovered Listeria in 1926 whilst working as a bacteriologist in laboratories in Cambridge, England. Along with his colleagues, he noticed that the bacterium was infecting and killing experimental rabbits in the laboratory. Initially it was named Bacterium monocytogenes, then Listerium monocytogenes, and finally Listeria monocytogenes in 1940, in order to honour Joseph Lister’s work on surgical antisepsis. The monocytogenes refers to the peripheral monocytosis often seen in animals infected with this bacterium.

It was not until much later that Listeria monocytogenes was recognised as a foodborne pathogen, possibly as late as 1981.

Listeria monocytogenes is interesting in its ability to both harmlessly colonise and to cause devastating infection. See “The Danger Period”.

I guess Joseph Lister is probably one of the few surgeons to have had a bacterium named after him…


p.s. I have added a few MCQs on Hepatitis B serology to the website.

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