Louis Pasteur was a French chemist who laid the foundations of modern microbiology. He also revolutionized the life sciences with his radical methods of study and experimentation. He is credited with numerous discoveries and the development of processes such as pasteurization which is widely used for sterilization. However, he is best remembered for his cure of rabies, a dreaded disease which until then meant certain death.Early Life and CareerLouis Pasteur was born into a poor family in the town of Dole, France on December 27, 1822. His father was a tanner. His early days were spent in the town of Arbois where he attended school. Though he did not excel in school, the headmaster spotted Pasteur's potential and persuaded his father to send him to Paris for further studies.Pasteur enrolled in the Ecole Normale Superiere in Paris. He obtained his doctorate in 1847 and became an assistant to a professor. Pasteur's first brush with fame came when he was only 26 years old when he made a revolutionary discovery on the polarization of light by tartaric acid, an acid found in wine. Pasteur found that the crystals of tartaric acid rotate light in two different directions because the crystals are present in two forms which were mirror images of each other. His findings drew acclaim amongst his peers.His pioneering work on crystallography was lauded and he was elevated to the post of Professor at the college of Strasbourg. From there he went on to hold many distinguished academic positions in the reputed universities of the time.He returned in 1856 to his alma mater, the Ecole Normale Superieure as Administrator and Director of Scientific Studies. He later went on to head the Science Faculty at the University of Lille. In 1867, he founded a laboratory for the study of microbes, which came to be known as the Pasteur Institute. It was here that he made the most famous and influential of his discoveries, the cure for rabies - a deadly disease which until then was incurable.Pasteur's DiscoveriesPasteur is remembered for first establishing the connection between germs and disease. He sought to apply all his scientific discoveries and ideas towards practical purposes. In the 1860s, the French silk industry was struck with a devastating epidemic. A mysterious disease was destroying the silkworms. The infected worms died before spinning the cocoons. The eggs which were infected did not hatch. In time, almost all the stock of silkworms was infected. The French silk industry was in danger of being wiped out. Alarmed, the French Government asked Pasteur to study the problem.By observing the infected silk worms under a microscope, Pasteur discovered that disease was caused by bacteria which spread through contact between healthy and infected silk worms. He worked with the silk industry and developed a method to isolate infected silk worms. This halted the spread of the disease. The destroyed stock of silk worms was repopulated with healthy silk worms and in due course the industry recovered.Pasteur soon became a household name in France. More importantly, this incident helped Pasteur focus and develop the 'germ theory' of disease.The next object of Pasteur's study was the anthrax epidemic, which was threatening the livestock in France. Pasteur managed to isolate the anthrax microbe and weakened it by heating. He then injected the weakened form of the virus into healthy animals. This helped the animals develop resistance to the real anthrax microbe. He had developed a vaccine against the disease. He applied the same method against fowl cholera, a disease that affected poultry birds.Another process in germ control to which Pasteur has lent his name is Pasteurization -- a method of preservation that is widely used in the dairy industry. Pasteur discovered that heating a liquid such as wine, milk, etc to high temperatures for a short period of time kills the microbes inside and increases the shelf life of the products.Pasteur and RabiesAs remarkable as Pasteur's other discoveries are, the crowning glory of his achievements was his development of a cure for rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus. The virus passes from infected animals to humans chiefly by means of bites. Most of the cases of rabies are transmitted from dogs to man. Once the individual is infected, the virus spreads and attacks the nervous system. The disease is 100% fatal if left untreated.Pasteur sought to use the technique used in vaccination in his fight against the deadly disease. He first obtained spinal cords from animals which had died of rabies. Next, he dried them. He then extracted the virus from the spinal cords and infected healthy rabbits with the disease. Studying the tissues of the infected rabbits, he was able to develop a cure for rabies. The cure was first tested on a young boy, Joseph Meister who had bitten by a rabid dog. Meister recovered without developing any of the symptoms of rabies.The incident was a milestone in the history of medicine. Pasteur achieved international fame and renown.Death and LegacyPasteur died in 1895 from complications caused by a stroke. His remains are interred in a crypt at the Pasteur InstituteThe Pasteur Institute, which he founded in 1887, is involved in the study of microbiology and in the preparation of vaccines. Today, it has research centers around the world. These centers focus on addressing medical problems in various parts of the world.Over the course of his lifetime, Pasteur made contributions to diverse fields such as biology, chemistry and physics. He is hailed as a benefactor to humanity for his work on rabies. The methods he used for experimentation and analysis are as famous as his discoveries. He advocated simple and systematic experimentation to come to conclusions.
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