2022 marks the 200Th anniversary of the birth of Louis Pasteur, one of the greatest scientists of all time. He was a pioneer in chemistry, microbiology, immunology and vaccinology. His discoveries have saved countless lives and created new wealth for the world. He contributed invaluably to medicine by discovering that fermentation, putrefaction, infection, and souring are caused by germs, or microbes. He also invented the principles of vaccination and pasteurization – which is named after him – to preserve foods, which turned out to be enormously important for human health.
Fermentation and Pasteurization
Begin his story with chemistry, Pasteur developed an aptitude for bacteria while experimenting on chemical reactions creating fermentation in wine, beer, and milk. He speculated that fermentation was not a simple chemical reaction but took place only in the presence of living organisms. He uncovered that fermentation is a process involving the action of living yeast that converts sugar into alcohol. He noticed as well new type of living organism – anaerobic microbes – microbes that live only in the absence of oxygen
Next, he investigated what caused the failure fermentation. His finding shows that microorganisms producing fermentation diseases were already existent in the atmosphere. His further studies then developed the valuable technique of pasteurization to limit the spread of fermentation diseases. It is a process of increasing temperature to a set level which kills microorganisms (Cambridge 184). It eventually became customary to pasteurize all perishable foods, and the process was also used to improve the nutrition of infants (Garrison 576).
The Germ Theory of Disease
After his work in fermentation and his discovery that pasteurization can prevent foods from harmful microorganisms, Pasteur started to develop the modern germ theory which explains specific diseases are caused by germs – microscopic organisms. With Joseph Lister and Robert Koch, he evolved the introduction of asepsis in surgery or the sterilization of surgical instruments which saved millions of human lives. This innovation cut infections and deaths following operations dramatically.
Anthrax and Rabies Vaccines
Pasteur’s first important discovery in the study of vaccination came in 1879 and concerned a disease called chicken cholera. He developed the concept of the attenuated, or weakened, versions of microbes for use in vaccines. Pasteur then became a pioneer in the development of vaccinations after he discovered methods of protecting people against two deadly diseases – anthrax and rabies.
- Britannica LaunchPacks 2020, Louis Pasteur, Britannica, accessed 9 November 2022, <Louis-Pasteur-6-8-225164.pdf>
- Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics, Harvard Library, https://curiosity.lib.harvard.edu/contagion/feature/germ-theory, accessed 9 November 2022
- ‘Louis Pasteur’, Famous Scientists, https://www.famousscientists.org/louis-pasteur/, accessed 9 November 2022
- Louis Pasteur: French chemist and biologist, 2022, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Pasteur, accessed 9 November 2022
- Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), The University of Alabama at Birmingham, https://library.uab.edu/locations/reynolds/collections/medical-greats/louis-pasteur, accessed 9 November 2022
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