The History of the VAAM

The Association for General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM) was founded in Würzburg in 1985. But its roots lie in the Local Branch ("Lokaler Ast") of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1973, the then President of the ASM, Dr Robert Hungate (Davis, CA), suggested the foundation of a Local Branch of the ASM in the Federal Republic of Germany and pointed out the support of the ASM by guest speakers. According to the ASM Constitution, more than 25 members of the ASM in Germany voted for this option. Thus, the first official meeting took place in Bonn in 1975, at which time the Executive Board was also elected.

Until 1956, there had only been the chair of microbiology at the University of Göttingen, which had already been founded in 1902 at a Faculty of Natural Sciences/Agriculture. In parallel, medical microbiology organised itself as early as 1906 as the "Free Association for Microbiology". At the congress in Würzburg in 1922, this was renamed the "German Association for Microbiology", and in 1949 at the congress in Frankfurt it was given its name, which is still valid today, as the "German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology". In 1956, further chairs of microbiology were founded in the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Frankfurt and Hamburg, followed by numerous professorships in the 1960s and 1970s. This generation of microbiologists was oriented towards American research habits and emphasised basic research. It was also free of professional and social ambitions. Improving contacts between younger and older colleagues and with students was an important goal. Following the structural reform of the DGHM, the following meetings of the Local Branch of the ASM were held together with those of Section I of the DGHM (General and Applied Microbiology). Poster presentations became increasingly important at the meetings.

The 1979 meeting in Munich had left an impression that would shape later meetings with the presentation of archaea as the third domain of life by Prof. Dr. Carl Woese and a mixer with pretzels, beer and music. In 1980, the GIT publishing house and the Local Branch concluded an agreement by which the journal "Forum Mikrobiologie", founded in 1979 by Prof. Dr. Hans Jürgen Kutzner, became the communication organ of the Local Branch. In 1984, the then Hoechst AG company, now Sanofi-Aventis, together with the New England Biolabs Inc. company, donated a doctoral prize to recognise an outstanding doctoral achievement. Other companies (BASF AG, Bayer Schering AG, Evonik) later joined this fund, so that today three to four prizes can be awarded.

The prizewinners' presentations demonstrate the high level of achievement in the most diverse sub-fields of microbiology. The excellently organised annual meetings, the high level of commitment of colleagues in recruiting members and the review articles and contributions in the "Forum", which are of interest to students and university teachers alike, led to a strong increase in membership.

The increasing interest in the German Local Branch caused the percentage of voting "pure" ASM members to decrease, so that in 1985 the "Association for General and Applied Microbiology" was founded to give all members equal voting rights at the General Assembly. The words "German", "Verein" or "Gesellschaft" were deliberately not included in the new name in order to also emphasise the "internationality" of this association. This is now almost a matter of course: for a long time the abstracts for the conferences have been written only in English, and the same applies to all plenary lectures, almost all posters and many short lectures.

The abstracts of the conferences were published as special issues. In 1986, the Local Branch was formally dissolved after 85 percent of all members had joined the VAAM. In 1989, the first joint meeting of the VAAM with a European sister society, the "Nederlandse Vereniging voor Microbiologie (NVvM)" took place in Marburg. At the turn of the millennium, the largest congress to date in terms of the number of participants followed together with the "Austrian Society for Hygiene, Microbiology and Preventive Medicine" and the DGHM in Munich. When the GIT publishing house renamed the "Forum Mikrobiologie" in 1991 to "BIOforum" without notification and also changed the content, this led to the change to "BioEngineering" of the Resch publishing house in 1992. Together with the GBCh (Society for Biological Chemistry), now renamed GBM, the VAAM then found a partner interested in scientific communication in Spektrum Akademischer Verlag in 1995 and founded the journal BIOspektrum. The success of this journal was followed in 1997 by the Society for Genetics (GfG) and the Society for Developmental Biology (GfE), and in 2002 by the German Society for Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology (DGPT). After the reunification of the two German states in 1991, the members of the GATM (Society for General and Technical Microbiology) from the former GDR were asked whether they would like to join the VAAM. Even before reunification, the VAAM secretariat sent the "Forum Microbiology" to a relatively small group of people. In 1989, the Inner German Ministry even made a sum of money available for this purpose. Almost in anticipation, Prof. Dr Bärbel Friedrich had invited people to the 1990 VAAM conference at the FU in Berlin. For the first time there was a joint meeting of both boards, with Professors Michael Hecker and Wolfgang Fritsche representing the GATM. The awarding of the first honorary memberships of the VAAM to the already retired "mother of microbiologists at the DFG", Dr Anita Hoffmann, and a "grandfather" of microbiology in both parts of Germany, Prof. Dr Hans G. Schlegel, suddenly fitted in perfectly with this memorable meeting. The University of Leipzig and the Environmental Research Centre (UFZ) hosted the first conference in an East German federal state in 1993. The annual VAAM conferences are now very well attended, with an average of around 1,200 participants. The VAAM logo was the result of an ideas competition. It symbolically states that general, basic and application-oriented microbiology are mutually dependent on each other and consequently occupy the same place. The early formation of independently acting specialist groups within the VAAM with their own symposia or summer schools, the integration into the European FEMS as well as the establishment of a joint office with the GBM show that the members of the VAAM want to adapt to changes in society. With currently around 3500 members, the VAAM is the largest microbiology-oriented professional society in the German-speaking world.