A retrospective: Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur was born in Jura, France in 1822, and he was raised as a Catholic. As a young boy, he enjoyed sketching, and spent much of his time drawing his family and friends; there was initially no sign of his academic brilliance. He attended the Collège d’Arbois, and then in 1839 he started at the Royal College of Besançon to study philosophy, and science. He obtained a batchelor of letters degree, and a baccalauréat scientifique degree in 1842, in Dijon. Three years later after joining the École Normale Supérieure, he gained his Masters of Science degree, and got the post of professor at Collège de Tournon. His life changed dramatically now he’d found his purpose in life.

In 1848 he moved to Strasbourg to fill the position of professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, and a year later married a Marie Laurent.

Louis discovered molecular asymmetry, which he believed to be one of the fundamental characteristics of life. In 1854, whilst still researching his theories, he accepted the position of professor of chemistry at the University of Lille, where he began studying fermentation of alcohol. In 1857, Louis once again had itchy feet and returned to Paris. His work in Lille had convinced him that there were living organisms in every type of fermentation, and this led him to study germs, and their effects. He figured out that by passing oxygen through the fermenting fluid he created what is now called the ‘Pasteur effect‘. This discovery led to him being commissioned by Napoleon III to study wine contamination which he concluded was caused by microbes. To remedy this problem he heated the wine to between 50-60 degrees °C, and this killed off the organisms that caused contamination. This process was named pasteurisation and is used with milk in particular, and thus began the science of bacteriology.

In 1862 he became a professor of chemistry and physics at the École Nationale Supérieure Des Beaux-arts and was given the job is finding out what was killing all of France’s silkworms, which had almost killed off their industry. He isolated the organisms that killed off the silkworms, and perfected a way of isolating the eggs so that they remained free from contamination, thus saving France’s almost deceased industry, and this set Louis on his mission to study Epidemiology (study of disease.

“Do not put forward anything that you cannot prove by experimentation” – Louis Pasteur

During his silkworm investigation, Louis suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralysed down one side of his body, but this didn’t stop him studying and researching germs, disease and how to create vaccines. He studied Anthrax and foul Cholera primarily, and experimented with chickens in his laboratory by figuring out how to attenuate the microbes that caused the infection and gradually he created a vaccine that worked. Using the same method with Anthrax, he inoculated cattle, and they survived. He’d made the breakthrough that he’d tirelessly worked for all these years.

He desired to focus on infectious diseases that affected humans, but he fretted about the ethical side and how he could approach it. He decided that if he worked on a disease that affected both humans and animals then he could work on the animal side more before moving on to humans; so he chose Rabies. Attenuation was made first with monkeys and then with rodents, but he was yet to treat a human. Joseph Meister was facing certain death from his infection, and Louis decided that if the boy was going to certainly die, what did he have to lose if the vaccine failed? The boy lived, and so did many more patients after him. Louis’ vaccination of rabies was a success, and this pleased him greatly. His discovery of weakening diseases and viruses, and causing people to become immune to stronger more powerful strains has saved perhaps more lives than any other person in history.

In 1887 he established the Pasteur Institute which specialises in infectious diseases, and it’s still a front runner in research to this day. In 1895, at the age of 72, he died from a series of strokes at Villeneuve l’Étang near Paris.