Wilhelm Kolle, a German bacteriologist, studied medicine in Goettingen, Halle and Wurzburg. From 1893 to 1897 he worked under Robert Koch* at the Institut fuer Infektionskrankheiten (Institute for Infectious Diseases) in Berlin (popularly known as Koch's Institute), where he conducted immunological research, mainly on typhoid fever and cholera. When Koch and P.M.J. Kohlstock* came to South Africa in December 1896 to investigate rinderpest at the request of the Colonial Office, Kolle remained in Berlin and was informed by Koch of the progress of their work by means of several letters. Soon after Koch left South Africa for India in March 1897, Kolle came out to the experimental station near Kimberley where the work was still being continued by Kohlstock, who left soon thereafter for German South West Africa (now Namibia). The rinderpest investigations were continued at Kimberley by Kolle, with the assistance of the medical officer of health of the Cape Colony, Dr George Turner*. They concentrated on the method of immunisation by inoculation with serum, as pioneered by Arnold Theiler*, H. Watkins-Pitchford*, J. Bordet*, and J. Danysz*, rather than on Koch's method of inoculation with bile. Their efforts were directed at reducing the required dose of serum by repeated injections of virulent blood.
On 11 September 1897 Turner and Kolle issued a "Report on the progress of research work at the rinderpest experimental station, Kimberley; with special reference to a method of immunisation by means of inoculation with virulent rinderpest blood simultaneously with fortified serum of salted animals". The report was published in the Agricultural Journal of the Cape of Good Hope (Vol. 11(7), pp. 356-380) in October. On the 14th of that month the two researchers, with D. Hutcheon* and A. Edington*, attended a conference on immunisation against rinderpest with the secretary for agriculture, P.H. Faure. Kolle and Turner also published the results of their work in the Zeitschrift fuer Hygiene in 1898. Their "serum-simultaneous" method of immunisation produced strong and lasting immunity, but initially some immunised animals were found to suffer from gall sickness (anaplasmosis). This disease had just been described for the first time in South Africa by Hutcheon, and Kolle described the protozoon causing it in a paper, "Ueber einen neuen pathogenen Parasiten in Blute der Rinder in Suedafrika", published in the Zeitschrift fuer Hygiene in 1898.
In November 1898 Kolle was placed in charge of a small, newly established laboratory in Cape Town by the colonial secretary to study the manner in which leprosy is spread and to diagnose diphteria by microscopical examination. However, he did not stay long. Returning to Berlin he published Lehrbuch der klinischen Untersuchungsmethoden (1902), and four years later Die experimentelle bakteriologie und die infektionskrankheiten... (1906, 11th edition, 1952). In 1906 he became professor of hygiene and bacteriology at the University of Bern, Switzerland and researcher at the Swiss Serum and Lymph Institute. During World War I (1914-1918) he served in the German military. In 1917 he succeeded Dr Paul Ehrlich as director of both Georg Speyer-Haus, a research institute for chemotherapy in Frankfurt am Main, and the Institut fuer experimentelle Therapie in the same city. He held these positions until his death in 1935 and in addition was appointed honorary professor at the University of Frankfurt in 1918.
Kolle conducted research in bacteriology, immunology, and chemotherapy, introduced an Asiatic cholera vaccine, and published numerous scientific papers. Many procedures, laboratory equipment and vaccines were named after him. His later works included La bacteriologie experimentale appliquee a l'etude des maladies infectieusse (with H. Hetsch, Paris, 1910); and Experimental bacteriology in its application to the diagnosis, epidemiology, and immunology of infectious diseases (with H. Hetsch, revised translation, London, 1934). He was a temperamental person, but an excellent organiser.