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Set of six test tubes used by Joseph Lister, United Kingdom, 1875-1878

This set of six test tubes held in a glass stand by wire was used by Joseph Lister (1827-1912) for his experiments on lactic fermentation. Lister studied fermentation because he thought it might give him information about human diseases, such as specific fevers, that are similar to fermentation. Lister chose to study lactic fermentation as it is simple to recognise (by the curdling of milk) and can be easily tested. The open test tubes were used to mimic open wounds. Lactic fermentation is also rare so could not be caused accidentally by experimental error. The test tubes are shown here with a glass slab (A645135).

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Glossary: microbiology

Branch of biology that deals with micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and their effects.

Glossary: lactic

relating to milk

Glossary: specific fever

Produced by a peculiar poison, or an exclusive or specific cause, and the fever runs, or strongly tends to run, to a definite course which can be used to identify the fever; an example is yellow fever

Glossary: test tube

Hollow cylinders of thin glass with one end closed. Test tubes are used for chemical and biological experiments and analysis.

Glossary: fermentation

A form of anaerobic respiration (respiration that does not need oxygen) occurring in certain micro-organisms, for example yeasts.