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Louis Pasteur

discoverer of pasteurization and vaccination

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822, in D˘le, Jura, France, the only son of a tanner, and grew up in the nearby town of Arbois. As a youngster he preferred fishing and drawing to school work. In fact, his early drawings suggest that he could easily have become an excellent portrait artist. By the time he got to college, however, he had developed an interest in chemistry. He graduated from the Royal College of Besanšon in 1840, and received his Master's Degree in Chemistry in 1842. In 1843, he was admitted to the prestigious ╔cole Normale in Paris, from which he received his Doctorate in 1848.

While working toward his doctorate, Pasteur proved that two organic compounds that had the same chemical composition could have different crystalline structures.

In 1849, Pasteur became a science professor in Strasbourg, where he met and married Mlle. Laurent, who proved herself a devoted and noble helpmate. While at Strasbourg he was awarded the Ribbon of the Legion of Honour for artificially producing racemic acid from commercial acid.

In 1854, Pasteur became professor and dean of the Faculty of Sciences at Lille, where his energies were spent on discovering the causes of the diseases of beer and wine. Examining the yeasts of sound and unsound beer under a microscope, Pasteur discovered that the globules of the sound beer were nearly spherical, while those of the sour beer were elongated. After becoming Director of Scientific Studies at the ╔cole Normale in 1857, he determined that fermentation is the result of minute organisms, and that when a fermentation failed, either the necessary organism was absent or unable to grow properly. He proved his theory by showing that milk could be soured by injecting a number of the organisms from buttermilk and that beer could be kept unchanged if similar organisms were excluded.

Pasteur's work on fermentation led to his wondering whether the organisms that caused fermentation were always present in the atmosphere or whether they were spontaneously generated. In 1864, he showed that the organisms came from similar organisms with which ordinary air was impregnated. He also showed that the organisms can be killed by applying controlled heat. This use of heat as a means to kill germs is now known as pasteurization.

In June 1865, Pasteur went to the south of France to investigate a disease that was then devastating the silk industry. Three years later he announced that he had isolated the bacilli of two distinct diseases that had been infecting the region's silkworms, and that he had found a method of preventing contagion and of detecting diseased stock. While conducting this research he was able to prove that if microbes are weakened in a laboratory and then placed in an animal's body, the animal develops an immunity to the microbe. He called this method of fighting off microbes vaccination.

In October 1868, Pasteur suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, but he was able to return to Paris and continue his experiments on fermentation. He wrote a paper on fermentation in 1872, became a member of the French Academy of Medicine in 1873, and received a life-pension from the National Assembly in 1874.

Turning his attention to anthrax, he demonstrated the entire natural history of the disease in 1879.

In 1880, he focused on chicken cholera, a disease which destroyed 10% of the French fowls that year. He was able to isolate the germ of the disease, cultivate a pure strain of the germ, and then use that pure strain to a vaccine against the disease.

Returning his attention to anthrax, Pasteur successfully isolated the bacillus and to produce a vaccine against the disease.

Pasteur then turned his attention to the study of rabies. On July 6, 1885, he inoculated a child who had been badly bitten by an infected dog. The experiment was so successful that by November 1888 the Institut Pasteur was founded. Thanks to the work done by this institute, less than 1% of victims infected with rabies die from the disease.

Louis Pasteur died on September 28, 1895. He is buried in an elaborate crypt at the Institut Pasteur.

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This page was last updated on 12/27/2018.