Jane Hinton: An early leader in our fight against antimicrobial resistance
A smiling woman with a grey sweater and a smiling man wearing a toque and blue coat

In honour of Black History Month, we are pleased to feature a series of stories celebrating the contributions Black individuals have made to our understanding of infectious diseases and how to prevent and treat them. Each story is written by a member of EPIC’s Trainee Advisory CommitteeCheck out the first and second stories in our series here and here.

February 29, 2024

By Duncan Carruthers-Lay

Jane Hinton was a Black microbiologist and veterinarian who was instrumental in our ongoing battle with antimicrobial resistance. The daughter of the bacteriologist William Augustus Hinton, Jane continued her father’s legacy and contributions to the field of microbiology.

Jane Hinton was born May 1, 1919, in Canton, Massachusetts to her father William and her mother Ada (Hawes), a high school teacher. At six years old, Jane and her sister travelled to Europe for school before returning to the United States to finish high school. She then obtained her bachelor’s degree from Simmons College in Boston in 1939 at the onset of World War II. Upon graduating, Hinton took a position at her father’s laboratory at Harvard University in the Department of Bacteriology as an assistant to John Howard Mueller. It was here that she co-invented Mueller-Hinton agar in 1941, a culture medium for bacteria that is still used today.

Mueller-Hinton agar was designed for the culture of Neisseria gonorrhoeae and N. meningitidis, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea and meningitidis, respectively. The original manuscript describing the media lists the ingredients as “Meat infusion, casein hydrolysate, starch paste, water and shredded agar.” Mueller-Hinton agar has several desirable traits as a culture media which have enabled its continued use today. It supports the growth of multiple species of microbes, and its composition is ideally suited for testing for antimicrobial resistance using the disc diffusion method. Interestingly, Mueller and Hinton tested the agar on several meningococcal isolates obtained from an outbreak in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1940-1941.

After her time at Harvard, Hinton worked for several years as a medical technician with the U.S. War Department for the remainder of the Second World War. She worked with Dr. Hildrus Augustus Poindexter, who would receive a bronze star for his work combatting malaria and tropical diseases in the Pacific. She then enrolled in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1949, becoming one of the first Black women to receive her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree alongside Alfreda Johnson Webb. She worked as a small animal veterinarian in Massachusetts until 1955 when she joined the Department of Agriculture as a federal inspector. She worked with the department until her retirement in 1960 at the age of 41.

Jane Hinton passed away in 2003 at the age of 83. She spent her time after retirement gardening and caring for her pets. Her achievements have left a lasting legacy to this day, where microbiology labs and public health departments all around the world use the agar she developed to study infectious diseases and prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance.  

Recommended reading

Jane Hinton (BLACKPAST, 2020)

Dr. Jane Hinton: Co-Developer of Mueller-Hinton Agar (EOS cu, 2022)

Black History Month: Celebrating the work of Black microbiologists (Microbiology Society, 2020)