The Life and Legacy of Louis Pasteur

One of the most notable figures in the development of vaccines is Louis Pasteur. Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822 in Dole, France. During his life, Pasteur excelled as a chemist, a biologist, and a microbiologist and is remembered for his discovery of pasteurization, his efforts toward the understanding of microbial fermentation, and his initial administration of the rabies vaccine. In his early years, Pasteur was only considered an average student, and his main interests included drawing and painting. He earned both a bachelor of arts degree and a bachelor of sciences degree from the Royal College of Besançon. He also earned a doctorate degree in 1847 from the École Normale in Paris. Following several years of teaching and researching, Pasteur became a professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg. It was here that he met his wife, Marie Laurent, who he went on to have five children with.

Pasteur’s first major contribution to the field of chemistry concerned his study of tartaric acid. Based on the way that light was rotated as it passed through a solution of dissolved tartaric acid, Pasteur was able to propose what is now accepted as the concept of molecular chirality, as well as make the first true explanation of isomerism. Later on in 1854, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry and dean of the science faculty at the University of Lille. It was here that he worked on addressing the common problems with the manufacture of alcoholic drinks. Using the germ theory which had already been established, Pasteur was able to expand pre-existing concepts in order to demonstrate that organisms like bacteria were responsible for souring beer, wine, and milk. He was responsible for establishing a process by which bacteria could be removed by first boiling and then cooling the liquid. This first test was completed on April 20, 1862, and the process today is known as pasteurization. Moving onto vaccines, Pasteur made his first major discovery in this field in 1879, with a disease known as chicken cholera. In this experiment, chickens were inoculated with an attenuated culture of chicken cholera germs. The chickens survived and when Pasteur inoculated them with a virulent strain, they demonstrated immunity to the disease. Beyond this, Pasteur extended the germ theory in order to develop causes and vaccinations for several other diseases like anthrax, cholera, smallpox, and tuberculosis.

Following his success with previous vaccinations and his acceptance into the Académie Française in 1882, Pasteur began to focus his efforts on the issue of rabies. On July 6, 1885, Pasteur vaccinated Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog and who would have otherwise been doomed to a near-unavoidable death. The vaccine ended up saving Meister’s life and Pasteur was hailed as a hero. It was this event that sparked interest among the public to begin a fundraising campaign in order to construct the Pasteur Institute. Fundraising began in 1887 with several countries donating to the cause. The institute was inaugurated on November 14, 1888 and served as a center of scientific research and development. After 1891, the Pasteur Institute began to extend to several more countries, and there are currently 32 institutes spanning 29 countries. Besides the many individuals saved by his research on vaccines, Pasteur’s contributions continue to benefit both the medical and pharmaceutical fields as a whole.

References:

Stern, M. A., & Markel, H. (2005). The History of Vaccines and Immunization: Familiar Patterns, New Challenges. Health Affairs, 24(3), 611-621.

Ulmann, A. (2017). Louis Pasteur: French Chemist and Microbiologist. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Pasteur

American Pharmacists Month Historical Pioneers: Louis Pasteur

Contributed by Kendra Hall, Class of 2019

Louis Pasteur was born in France in December of 1822 (“Louis Pasteur: The man who led the fight against germs,” 2016). Through childhood he was very interested in arts and loved to paint; however, his father, a sergeant major in the Napoleonic wars, pushed him to study hard. He attended Ecole Normale Superieure where he earned his master’s in 1845 and doctorate in 1847. While working on his doctoral dissertation on how crystals rotate planes of polarized light, he came to the conclusion that it was the internal arrangement to the molecules that caused the light to bend (“Louis Pasteur,” 2016). He started working at University of Strasbourg in 1848, where he continued his research into crystals light arrangement. In his research he discovered that molecules have mirror images and that living molecules always rotate the light to the left, also called left-handed (“Louis Pasteur: The man who led the fight against germs,” 2016).

Pasteur was the first person to realize that everything was not created from nothing. He discovered germ theory (“Louis Pasteur: The man who led the fight against germs,” 2016).  His theory was that sickness did not come from a “presence” but was actually very tiny organisms. When Antoni van Leeuwenhoek developed the microscope, he discovered there were tiny creatures in the sample of water he was viewing under the microscope. This was just the beginning to Louis’s discovery of the germ theory (Wellcome Library, n.d.).

Germ Theory is only one of the many things that Pasteur is known for. Pasteurization is yet another. He was tasked to find out why only some of the bottles of wine were spoiling on the way to market. What he found was that there was bacteria in the bottles. To solve the problem, he determined that the wine could be boiled at 55 degrees Celsius and it would kill the bacteria, but it would not deteriorate the quality of the wine (“Louis Pasteur: The man who led the fight against germs,” 2016).

His research took him in another direction. Developing a vaccine. Originally, he looked at anthrax but turned quickly to fowl cholera. He realized that exposing the body to a small amount of the disease (bacteria) the body would fight the disease and only have a mild reaction. This is how he discovered that attenuating the bacteria was needed. Attenuating caused a weakening of the bacteria that would still cause the immunity to build up but with little to no sickness. He proved this by growing cultures of fowl cholera and exposing lab chickens to it, the result was death as expected, but after leaving the cultures for several months and repeating the process the chickens became immune to the cholera with very little sickness (“Louis Pasteur,” 2016).

After this discovery, he went back to anthrax and tried the same thing. He vaccinated several animals in a two part series and left several more unvaccinated to test his theory. A few weeks after administration, he exposed all the animals to anthrax. Of those animals, none of the vaccinated died nor showed severe symptoms; while all the unvaccinated animals died two days later. Now that he knew he could develop vaccines, to prevent against these deadly diseases, he started looking at rabies. He successfully created a vaccine for rabies that he first tested in monkeys then rabbits. He then moved to infected dogs, to see if he could treat them for rabies and not just prevent them. Knowing of his success in the dogs, a mother begged him to give it to her son who had been bitten by a rabid animal. After some persuasion, he agreed to his first human trial and was successful (“Louis Pasteur,” 2016).

He was one of the most influential scientists in this era. Even though he was laughed at and mocked for his germ theory, he never gave up. His work on vaccines proved he was not crazy at all but that there really were tiny organisms that caused disease and that sickness did not just happen.

Works Cited

Louis Pasteur. (2016). Retrieved September 21, 2016, from https://www.chemheritage.org/ historical-profile/louis-pasteur

Louis Pasteur: The man who led the fight against germs. (2016). Retrieved September 21, 2016, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/z9kj2hv#z3r7xnb

Wellcome Library, L. (n.d.). Germ Theory. Retrieved September 21, 2016, from http://www. sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/germtheory