Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) – the Father of Immunology

An Artist at Heart

Born in 1822 in Dole, Louis Pasteur was not the conventional scientist. Growing up, Pasteur preferred to go fishing and enjoyed drawing. He had a special talent drawing portraits.

Pasteur, after relentless encouragement from his father, finally entered the world of academia. After graduating with a PhD in science from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he accepted a position as professor of physics at Dijon Lycee.

A True Scientist

Although Pasteur is now famously known for his work in the field of Immunology, his initial years were spent in the field of chemistry. He famously demonstrated that “organic molecules with the same chemical composition can exist in space in unique stereospecific (mirrored) forms”.

Pasteur was however intriuiged by numerous other fields. It was his venture and discussions with managers of the distilleries that led him to the field of immunology. His work on the spoiling of wine is particularly noteworthy.

Pasteurisation

At the time, scientists thought that the spoiling of food and fermentation were due to the chemical composition of air and therefore a chemical process. However it was Pasteur that disproved this. Pasteur hypothesised that food spoiling was due to microorgansims and not oxygen in the air.

To demonstrate this, he heated wine to 55C. This process killed the bacteria and left the taste unchanged. This entire process is now known as pasteurisation, and is used for numerous food products.

Chicken cholera

33 years after completing his PhD, Pasteur reported that you could make a virus less infectious and use it to prepare the immune system to fight it. He tried this with chickens, injecting them with a weakened virus, effectively immunising them against cholera.

Using this technique, he applied ‘immunisation’ to other viruses. He managed to treat sheep with anthrax (although his findings are disputed in the medical world). Controversially, Pasteur injected a boy bitten by rabid dog numerous times, without lengthy studies on his injections, saving the young boys life.

References

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