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Louis Pasteur

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Louis PasteurWhat do we know about Pasteur?

  • Dates: 1822- 1895
  • Place of Birth: France
  • Background & Education: Royal College of Besançon, École Normale Supérieure.
  • Career: Professor of physics at the Dijon Lycée, professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, professor of chemistry and the dean of the science faculty at the University of Lille, manager and director of scientific studies at the École Normale Supérieure. Awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion of Honour.
  • Famous Publications: Germ Theory and Its Applications to Medicine and on the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery.

Contribution to Medicine

  • Employed in 1857 to find the explanation for the souring of sugar beet in fermenting industrial alcohol. He concluded that germs caused it to sour.
  • Pasteur proved that there were germs in the air by showing that sterilised water in a closed flask stayed sterile, whilst sterilised water in an open flask bred germs.
  • In 1861, Pasteur published his Germ Theory. He argued that microbes in the air caused decay, not the other way round. He also suggested that some germs caused disease. This was a major turning point though it would be a number of years before its impact was felt for many.
  • In 1867, Pasteur published evidence proving there was a link between germ and disease, demonstrating that germs caused a disease in silkworms.
  • Pasteur and Koch were rivals which led to great competition between their two teams. In 1881 Pasteur’s assistant, Charles Chamberland, injected some chickens with a cholera culture that had been weakened by being accidently left out on the desk while he was on holiday. The chickens survived. The team tried again with some newly cultured cholera, but the chickens still survived. They worked out that the weakened cholera had made the chickens immune. Chamberland’s error had produced a chance discovery.
  • Pasteur’s team produced a weakened version of the anthrax bacteria to make sheep immune to anthrax. They showed this in a public experiment in 1881. They used a similar method to find a vaccine for rabies.

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