Gnezda, Pittaluga, Zipfel, Goré, and Berschaffelt back me up on this

by Mike

Sometimes you see an old scientific paper that does a lot of name-dropping. Instead of saying something like “we used an isothermal calorimeter incorporating a constant-flux modification”, it’ll say “we used a Stanpfer device incorporating a Billigs modification, as demonstrated by Reemis”. I guess this sort of thing is still common in chemistry where every reaction is named after some long-dead German or Japanese person, but to me it seems to hearken back to the days when science was a pursuit for punctilious aristocrats and eccentric showmen.


W. L. Holman and F. L. Gonzales are classic name-droppers.

Some excerpts from A Test For Indol Based on the Oxalic Acid Reaction of Gnezda (found in the November 1923 Journal of Bacteriology, 8(6):577-583):

Gnezda described a pink or purple color reaction formed by the union of oxalic acid and indol in 1899. It is not clear whether Morelli or Pittaluga first applied this reaction to bacteriologic studies.

Morelli does not refer to Gnezda’s work and Zipfel thought that this was simply a return to the principle of the Crisafulli pine splinter hydrochloric acid procedure.

Verschaffelt used the method to demonstrate indol from jasmine and orange blossoms.

Konrich is reported to have found it unsatisfactory. Zipfel, Baudet and Freund obtained results which compared favorably with other standard methods.

The results given with the Salkowski and Ehrlich tests frequently fail to agree. It would appear from the studies of Frieber and many previous workers that the Salkowski test is not reliable as a test for indol, since it gives a reaction quite similar when indol acetic acid is formed from the tryptophane molecule. The Ehrlich-Böhme test has been found to react with other compounds than indol.

Of course, this paper is under no obligation to explain what the “Salkowski test”, the “Ehrlich test”, or the “Ehrlich-Böhme test” are. The audience was probably familiar with these things. The concept of an indol test, or indole test as we call it now, is not that complicated, and in fact is still performed today, with continued improvements and modifications.

And most of the names dropped here are found in the bibliography. In fact, here’s the bibliography.


That’s actually a very long bibliography for a 1923 paper. It would take some effort to find all those papers to see what the authors are talking about, if you’re not actively keeping up with the various permutations of the indole test.

Just as important… most of those papers are not in English. We can’t be sure because there’s no paper titles listed, only the names of the journals. But I count 5 references to English-language journals (J Biol Chem, J Bacteriol, Indian J Med Res); 4 French; 2 Italian; 1 Spanish; 2 Dutch (Folia Microbiol Delft?), and 14 German. There were some synopses of the foreign literature in American journals — unnecessary nowadays when almost everything is in English. But it seems like you had to at least read both English and German (and French?) to follow the scientific literature.

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Personally, I want to know more about “the Crisafulli pine splinter hydrochloric acid procedure”. That sounds great. So evocative of austere old-world elegance. If anyone has a copy of the 1895 Rivista d’Igiene e Sanità Pubblica, containing Gugliermo Crisafulli’s influential article “La reazione rossa del legno di pino per la ricerca dell’indolo nelle culture in brodo dei microrganismi”, please send it in. Or send in a translation.