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Pasteur High Priest of Microbiology

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                      Pasteur: High Priest of
                           Microbiology
               Wherever he turned, Pasteur brought great insight
                             to benefit humanity
                                               R OBERT      I. K R A S N E R   '




    This year marks the centennial of Louis Pasteur’s           teur. Even Hollywood got into the act in 1930 with the
death, occasioning a series of events organized by              feature film Life of Pasteur, starring Paul Muni. The
UNESCO and the Pasteur Institute to celebrate his               Society of Illinois Bacteriologists established the Pas-
many contributions.                                             teur Award in 1948, which each year recognizes an
    When one thinks of the famous names associated              individual who has made an outstanding contribution
with the history of medical science, certainly Pasteur          to microbiology.
ranks among the greatest. Trained as a chemist, Pas-
teur’s phenomenal success in diverse fields of research
                                                                Who Was Louis Pasteur?
is remarkable. In his 73-year life span, Pasteur distin-
guished himself as a teacher, patriot, scientist, and               Pasteur’s early years in school were not particularly
family man. His studies on crystallography, fermenta-           remarkable. He was an average student with a fond-
tion, diseases of wine and beer, spontaneous genera-            ness and a talent for painting; he did not display
tion, silkworm disease, cholera, and anthrax were no            brilliance. Sent at 16 to Paris to prepare for college, he
less significant than was his work on rabies.                   quickly became homesick and returned home. Eventu-
    However, the rabies work was Pasteur’s crowning             ally, he studied chemistry and graduated but without
glory and established his reputation. Pasteur was 63            distinction. However, this mediocrity soon gave way to
when he first treated a patient for rabies, and he was in       academic success at the Sorbonne in 1842-1843. He
poor health from overwork and the effects of a stroke           wrote in a letter, “Once you have got into the way of
suffered at age 46. But Pasteur was already a hero in           working you cannot live without it. Besides everything
France and beyond.                                              in this world depends on it.” This strong work ethic
                                                                remained with Pasteur throughout his lifetime and,
Pasteur Heralded in Many Venues                                 undoubtedly, contributed to his success.
                                                                    Over the next 25 years, Pasteur’s studies moved
    In 1950, Selman A. Waksman wrote, “Pasteur was
                                                                from chemistry to fermentation, to diseases of wine and
not only the great scientist who was largely responsible
                                                                beer, to spontaneous generation, and to silkworm dis-
for the creation of the science of microbiology, he was
                                                                ease, after which in the early 1870s he focused on
its high priest, preaching and fighting for the recogni-
                                                                diseases of higher animals and humans. His academic
tion of its importance in health and in human welfare.”
                                                                positions during these years were numerous and var-
    Numerous books have been written about Pasteur;
                                                                ied and included an appointment at the University of
towns, buildings, avenues, boulevards, streets, and
                                                                Strasburg in 1848, during which time he met and
statues bear his name. Further, many texts in micro-
                                                                married Marie-Laurent, daughter of the head of the
biology and immunology as well as books in general
                                                                Academy. His scientific accomplishments earned him
biology refer to and contain illustrations about Pas-
                                                                the Legion of Honor at the age of 31, for his contribu-
                                                                tions to chemistry, and election to the Academy of .
   Robert I. Krasner is a professor of biology at Provi-        Sciences at the age of 40.
dence College in Providence, R.I.                                   Pasteur’s first scientific paper, on crystallography,

VOL.61,NO.11,1995                                                                                                    575
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576              ASM News
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was published by the French Academy of Sciences in             I do not know whether the records of British surgery
1848. He next turned to fermentation, demonstrating            ever meet your eye. If so, you will have seen from time
conclusively that it results from microbial action and         to time notices of the antiseptic system of treatment,
thus establishing the “germ theory” of fermentation. In        which I have been labouring for the last nine years to
                                                               bring to perfection. Allow me to take this opportunity
a paper published in 1861 he wrote: “It is, I believe, the     to tender you my most cordial thanks for having, by
first known example of animal ferments, and also of            your brilliant researches, demonstrated to me the
animals living without requiring ‘oxygen gas’.” He had         truth of the germ theory of putrefaction, and thus
also discovered anaerobic bacteria.                            furnished me with the principle upon which alone the
    Between 1860 and 1864, Pasteur delivered the final         antiseptic system can be carried out.
blow to the concept of spontaneous generation. Biology
students perhaps associate Pasteur more with disprov-           In the early 1870s Pasteur was well renowned and
ing spontaneous generation than they do with his             respected in France and beyond by the scientific com-
research on rabies; illustrations of Pasteur’s swan-neck     munity but was regarded as a “mere chemist” by the
flasks are found in most biology texts. On 7 ‘April 1864     medical establishment, which had difficulty accepting
at the Sorbonne, Pasteur concluded, “Never will the          the germ theory of disease. Nevertheless, in 8 years,
doctrine of spontaneous generation recover from the          Pasteur developed immunizations against fowl chol-
mortal blow of these simple experiments.”                    era, anthrax, swine erysipelas, and rabies, all of which
    In 1863, at the command of Emperor Napoleon III,         helped to promote the germ theory of disease.
Pasteur undertook studies of “diseases” of, wine and            The anthrax work began in 1887; anthrax killed
showed them to be caused by microbial activity. His          from 25 to 30% of sheep in France and in some parts of
cure was simple-“ heat to 50°-60”C”-a process now            Europe had been epidemic, attacking humans as well.
called pasteurization and applied to many foods, par-        Koch had isolated the bacillus in pure culture. Pasteur
ticularly milk.                                              confirmed Koch’s work and in the spring of 1881 at a
    In 1865, at the request of the French Government,        farm in Pouilly-le-Fort, Pasteur dramatically demon-
Pasteur began studying the diseases of silkworms, a          strated the effectiveness of his anthrax vaccination,
problem that threatened to destroy the European silk         when the vaccinated flock remained well while the
industry. Within five years Pasteur not only solved the      unvaccinated animals died.
problem but established preventive measures. Despite
these professional successes, these years were difficult
personally for Pasteur, with the deaths of his father        Work on Rabies Lionized Pasteur
and of two of his daughters, Camille at the age of 2 and        The anthrax studies followed on the heels of Pas-
Cecile at 12, due to typhoid fever. His own health was       teur’s paper on the immunization of fowl against chol-
not good, and he was worn by the ongoing controversy         era. Jenner established immunization against smallpox.
over spontaneous generation and his compulsion to            Almost 90 years after Jenner established immunization
work under primitive conditions.                             against smallpox, the first human immunization against
                                                             rabies took place, and this treatment established Pas-
A New Lab and New Ambitions                                  teur as a popular hero. Which specific event led Pas-
    During this period, Pasteur wrote to Emperor Na-
poleon III requesting financial support for a new labo-
ratory: “I wish to have a much larger laboratory to
which would be attached a wing where experiments on
putrid and infectious diseases could be carried out
without endangering the public health.” Pasteur’s re-
quest for a larger laboratory for experiments on infec-
tious diseases represents a turning point to interest in
human diseases.
    In 1863, Pasteur advised the emperor of his great
ambition to learn the causes of putrid and contagious
diseases. Early in his career he was impressed with
the relationships between fermentation, putrefaction,
spontaneous generation, and infectious diseases. He
reasoned that if microbes could cause such damage in
wine, in beer, and in other foods, why not in the human
body? Some years earlier, Robert Boyle, a distin-
guished British scientist, had stated that “he who could
discover the nature of ferments and fermentation,
would be more capable than anyone else of explaining
the nature of certain diseases.”
    In 1874, Lord Lister paid tribute to Pasteur. In a
letter Lister wrote:

VOL. 61, NO. 11, 1995
                                                      Features

teur to study rabies is not known. One story describes       which I had found constantly successful with dogs,”
how, as a young boy, Pasteur had witnessed the ago-          Pasteur noted in a later article. Meister received 13
nies of a victim bitten by a rabid wolf; the victim was      inoculations of Pasteur’s vaccine over the next 10 days
undergoing cauterization of wounds with a red-hot            and survived.
iron.                                                            During the treatment, Pasteur was prey to anxiety.
    Rabies is considered one of the most dread diseases,     Mme. Pasteur wrote: “My dear children, your father
and stories of this terrifying disease trace to antiquity.   has had another bad night; he is dreading the last
One of Homer’s warriors called Hector a “mad dog.”           inoculations on the child. And yet there can be no
Another ancient, Celsus, described the horror of this        drawing back now. The boy continues in perfect
disease in vivid terms: “The patient is tortured at the      health.” Pasteur kept in touch with the boy through the
same time by thirst and by a revulsion toward water.”        years; it appears that he was like a second father to
By Pasteur’s time, cauterization was the common and          Meister. Meister later worked at the Pasteur Institute;
equally terrifying treatment; long, heated needles were      in 1940, 55 years after the accident that gave him a
inserted deeply into bite wounds, even those on the          lasting place in medical history, he purportedly com-
face. Another practice was to sprinkle gunpowder over        mitted suicide rather than open up Pasteur’s burial
the wound and set a match to it.                             crypt to German invaders.
    Pasteur developed a method to cultivate the rabies           Jean Baptiste Jupille, age 15, was the second hu-
virus in the medulla of rabbits and attenuate it by          man rabies case treated by Pasteur. The shepherd boy
drying fragments of medulla in sterilized vials. After       was brought to Paris 6 days after being bitten by a
Pasteur showed that such material protected dogs, he         rabid dog, which he heroically subdued to protect his
was pressured to use the rabies treatment on humans.         five companions. Despite this delay before treatment,
                                                             he survived. His act of bravery is commemorated with
                                                             a statue (see cover) now standing at the Pasteur
                                                             Institute.
     Early treatments for rabies                                 By October 1886, 15 months after Joseph Meister
   were nearly as terrifying as the                          was first treated, 1,490 individuals had received the
                                                             rabies vaccine. Patients from all over the world flocked
      disease: hot needles were                              to Paris, including four boys from Newark, N.J., who
    inserted into wounds, or they                            had been bitten by a mad dog. These boys, from poor
         were sprinkled with                                 families, were sent to Paris by means of a public
       gunpowder and lit with                                subscription organized by the New York HeraZd. Other
                                                             accounts from that period indicate Pasteur’s laboratory
               matches.                                      was crowded with rabies victims who came for life-
                                                             saving inoculations from Europe, Russia, the Middle
                                                             East, and elsewhere.
Pasteur considered testing it on himself, as indicated
                                                                 In response to a request from Odessa, Russia,
in a letter from March 1885: “I haven’t dared to treat
                                                             Pasteur sent two rabid rabbits for use in establishing a
humans after bites, but this moment is not too far off,
                                                             rabies vaccine laboratory; on 1 June 1886, Pasteur’s
and I should start with myself.”
                                                             antirabies treatment was administered by a Russian
    Pierre Victor Galtier, a professor at a veterinarian
                                                             on Russian soil for the first time, after which thousands
school in Lyon, preceded Pasteur in vaccinating sheep
                                                             flocked to Odessa from Siberia, Turkey, and other
against rabies by using saliva from rabid dogs. Galti-
                                                             countries.
er’s studies served as the groundwork for Pasteur’s
work. Galtier received many honors for his work and
was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1908, but he died a       Pasteur Becomes a Celebrity
few months before the Nobel Commission decision.
                                                                 The name Pasteur became increasingly familiar.
                                                             Caricatures of him appeared frequently in newspapers,
Tested on Desperate Humans, Rabies Vaccine
                                                             sometimes with political overtones. The French Acad-
Proves Effective
                                                             emy of Sciences supported a move to establish the
    6 July 1885 proved a momentous day for Pasteur           Pasteur Institute in Paris. About 2 years later, on 16
and medicine. On that day, Joseph Meister, a g-year-         November 1888, the institute was opened with consid-
old Alsatian boy, was brought to Pasteur’s laboratory        erable fanfare. But its director was ill and weary. He
following a savage attack two days earlier by a mad          spent much of his time with his wife and supervised the
dog. He suffered 14 wounds, some very deep, which had        Hydrophobia Clinic as much as his strength would
been treated with carbolic acid. The boy’s doctor, rec-      allow.
ognizing his patient’s peril, urged the boy’s mother to           Pasteur’s 70th birthday was celebrated on 27 De-
plead with Pasteur in Paris that her son might be given      cember 1892 in the great theatre of the Sorbonne amid
the vaccine. Pasteur consulted with colleagues at a          other celebrities, including the president of the repub-
meeting of the Academy of Sciences. “The death of this       lic, delegates from French and foreign learned societ-
child appearing to be inevitable, I decided, not with-       ies, professors, colleagues, and other distinguished
out. . .anxiety. . .to try upon Joseph Meister the method    scientists such as Roux, Duclaux, Chamberland, and

578                                                                                                        ASM News
                                                   Features

Metchnikoff. Tributes to Pasteur flowed. Lister, repre-   good; you have given a beautiful example to students.”
senting the Royal Society of London and Edinburgh,        Pasteur, overcome by emotion, asked his son to read his
said to Pasteur, “You have raised the veil which for      remarks.
centuries had covered infectious diseases; you have           Over the next few years, Pasteur saw several of
discovered and demonstrated their microbian nature.”      these students continue with success in microbiology.
Pasteur rose and embraced Lister.                         Roux and Yersin studied diphtheria; Yersin later stud-
    The dean of the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared,   ied plague in China, and Metchnikoff described phago-
“More fortunate than Harvey or Jenner, you have been      cytosis. However, Pasteur’s own health continued to
able to see the triumph of your doctrine, and what a      fail; his paralysis worsened and his speech was diffi-
triumph!” The president of the student association        cult. He died on 28 September 1895. The world mourned
said to Pasteur: “You have been very great and very       him and continues to honor his name.                 cl

				
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