Hans Christian Gram

Research By Maura Calahan


Hans Christian Joachim Gram was born September 13,1853 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He attended the Copenhagen Metropolitan School and received a B.A. in natural sciences in 1871. Hans Christian also served as an assistant to Japentus Steenstrup, a zoologist, from 1873-1874. After becoming interested in medicine he went to the University of Copenhagen to earn a medical degree in 1878. After earning his degree he continued his education by pursuing post-doctoral studies in Berlin, he mainly focused on bacteriology and pharmacology. While he was in Berlin he published his work on staining cells, a method that would become known as Gram staining.

Gram would remain in Berlin working as an assistant in a hospital until 1891, when he would be appointed Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen. In 1989 he would marry Louise I.C. Lohse. Then, three years later in 1892 Gram would be promoted to the position of Chief of Internal Medicine and the Royal Frederiks Hospital. He would also maintain his own internal medical practice.

Gram was Chairman of the Pharmacopoeia Commission from 1901-1921 during which he abolished the uses of many obsolete and useless therapeutic treatment. Hans Christian Gram would retire in 1923 and return to his earlier interest in the history of medicine.

Hans Christian Gram died in Copenhagen on November 14,1938.

Brief History on Cell Staining

The first form of cell staining was discovered in the seventeenth century by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. He found that if you dyed muscle fibers with saffron he could more easily find the detailed structures of the fibers. Many scientists have searched for natural products to dye the cells up until the nineteenth century with little success. The first synthetic dye was discovered by William Perkin in 1859. Other dyes soon followed.

Walther Flemming was one of the first to explore the new dyes and identified new structures in microscopic cells.

Carl Weigert helped further the development of cell staining in the late 1800's by figuring out what stains worked on which different types of bacteria. Carl had been a great influence on his cousin Paul Ehrlich who studied cell staining extensively and discovered the different relationships between the different cells and staining methods.

Gram Staining

Staining had been around long before Hans Christian Gram started his studies in microbiology, however, the methods were still very shaky. Initially, Gram borrowed a procedure originally created by Paul Erlich, who used alkaline aniline solutions to stain bacteria cells. Using pneumococci bacteria, Gram first applied Gentian violet, staining the cell purple, then would use Lugol's solution, also known as iodine, to wash the cells. The iodine served as a mordant to fix the dye. After this he would apply alcohol to wash away any remaining dye that was not permanently fixed. He found the cells that remained stained, which he coined Gram positive, while others stayed unstained, Gram negative.

Hans Christian Gram's method helped the microscopic study of bacteria, it provided a means to differentiate as well as classify bacteria cells.

Gram's method was later improved upon by Carl Weigart who added another step to the staining process. Weigart dyed the Gram negative cells with saffranine.

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Awards and Accomplishments

Hans Christian Gram earned a gold metal in 1882 for a study on Human Erythocytes and two years later, in 1884 he published his works on cell staining, which would widely become known as Gram staining.

Gram also published a four-volume book on the importance of rational pharmacology in clinical science.

Gram also was the recipient of The Danneborg Commander's Cross, the Golden Metal of Merit, and an honorary M.D. throughout his career.

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"Hans Christian Joachim Gram." World of Biology. Gale, 2006. Biography in Context. Web. 7 Jan. 2016.

"Cell staining." World of Biology. Gale, 2006. Biography in Context. Web. 7 Jan. 2016.