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By the last half of the 19th century, the microbial world was known to consist of protozoa, fungi, and bacteria, all visible with a light microscope. In the 1840s, the German scientist Jacob Henle suggested that there were infectious agents too small to be seen with a light microscope, but for the lack of direct proof, his hypothesis was not accepted. Although the French scientist Louis Pasteur was working to develop a vaccine for rabies in the 1880s, he did not understand the concept of a virus.
During the last half of the 19th century, several key discoveries were made that set the stage for the discovery of viruses. Pasteur is usually credited for dispelling the notion of spontaneous generation and proving that organisms reproduce new organisms. The German scientist Robert Koch, a student of Jacob Henle, and the British surgeon Joseph Lister developed techniques for growing cultures of single organisms that
allowed the assignment of specific bacteria to specific diseases.
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