Bacteriophage prehistory: Is or is not Hankin, 1896, a phage reference?

Bacteriophage. 2011 May;1(3):174-178. doi: 10.4161/bact.1.3.16591. Epub 2011 May 1.


We identified 30 actual or presumptive "bacteriophage" references dating between the years 1895 and 1917 and have further explored one of the oldest: Hankin's 1896 study of a bactericidal action associated with the waters of the Ganges and Jumna rivers in India. As Hankin's work took place approximately 20 years prior to the actual discovery of bacteriophages, no claims were made as to a possible phage nature of the phenomenon. Here we suggest that it may be imprudent to assume nevertheless that it represents an early observation of phagemediated bactericidal activity. Our principal argument is that the antibacterial aspect of these river waters was able to retain full potency following "heating" for one-half hour in hermetically sealed tubes, where heating in "open" tubes resulted in loss of antibacterial activity. We also suggest that environmental phage counts would have had to have been unusually high-greater than 10(6)/ml impacting a single host strain-to achieve the rates of bacterial loss that Hankin observed.