Louis Pasteur The father of modern microbiology

Brief Biology

1822, in the small town of Dole, France, a legend was born. Louis Pasteur, whose name is forever cemented in the history of medicine, was born under Jean-Joseph Pasteur--a famous tanner and sergeant major during the Napoleonic wars. Pasteur's relationship with the field of Chemistry began when he was admitted to the École Normale Supérieure, where he later became a teaching assistant under another famous French chemist, Baptiste-André Dumas. After graduating École Normale Supérieure, Pasteur was appointed as a professor of chemistry at the University of Lille. During his time at Lille, Pasteur went through a series of studies on alcoholic fermentation. His diligent investigations helped unravel the practical and economic problems of fermentation. In 1857, Pasteur presents experimental evidence for one of his most controversial theories: the germ theory of fermentation. (Louis Pasteur History). In 1863, under the request of Napoleon III, Pasteur applied his exceptional knowledge and experience in microbes and fermentation to wine and beer, fashioning a new method of food-preservation that is commonly referred to today as Pasteurization. His contribution to the medical and chemical field did not end there, however. In his later years, Pasteur developed the idea of vaccination, and contributed to the foundation of immunology--the study of immune systems in all organisms. He developed vaccines against cholera, anthrax, and rabies: all deadly diseases at the time . After his 70th birthday, Pasteur's already weak health started deteriorating rapidly. On September 28, 1895, the great chemist and microbiologist died. Louis Pasteur was buried in the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris (Ullman).

"Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world."

Important Ideas

Pasteurization, vaccination, and the germ theory are all important ideas of Louis Pasteur. Pasteurization was an important breakthrough in food preservation. Before Pasteurization was developed, wine and beer would often be contaminated during export. To solve this problem, Napoleon III, then emperor of France, appointed Pasteur to investigate this problem (Ullman). Pasteur soon came to the realization that this contamination was caused by microbes, and quickly developed a new method--now called "Pasteurization"--to prevent the spoiling of wine. It involved the heating of wine without changing the taste. Pasteurization revolutionized the food industry, and although nowadays it is seldom used on wine or beer, its fame lives on with milk. Pasteur's development of Vaccination also rapidly changed the world, as humans finally got the upper hand in the war against diseases. In 1880, Louis Pasteur, with the help of Charles Chamberland, discovered the vaccine to chicken cholera. He came to the important realization that weaker strain of germs could actually help the body form defenses against the more powerful germs. In 1881, Pasteur applied this same principle to anthrax--an epidemic that had killed large numbers of sheep. Declaring that his team has found a way to weaken anthrax germs, Louis Pasteur successfully proved to the still-doubtful world the power of vaccination. After anthrax, Pasteur developed a vaccine against the disease of rabies. In 1885, Pasteur used the vaccine on a young boy named Joseph Meister, with successful results (Louis Pasteur History). Pasteur is also well-known for his contributions to the germ theory of disease. In a world that was still dominated by the miasmatic theory of disease, Louis Pasteur's experimental evidence gave rise to the germ theory of disease. Carefully observing compounds such as lactic acid and butyric acid, Pasteur came to the realization that living organisms participates in all fermentative processes (Ullman).

(left to right) Germ theory of disease, vaccination, and pasteurization

How did Pasteur present his ideas? How were they viewed?

Pasteur presented his ideas to the public as any scientist would. He attended gatherings of famous scientists, wrote scientific papers, and were covered by press. For instance, when Pasteur was convinced of the germ theory of disease, he explained his beliefs in front of famous scientists at the University of Paris (Louis Pasteur History). He also published much of his works and discoveries, such as Les Microbes organisés, leur rôle dans la Fermentation, la Putréfaction et la Contagion (or the Microbes organized, their role in fermentation, putrefaction and the Contagion), or Traitement de la Rage (Treatment of Rabies). As his fame grew, he also attracted the media. Rossignoli, the editor of the "Veterinary Press," was especially intrigued by his ideas, even challenging Pasteur to a public test of his anthrax vaccine. As Pasteur's ideas became more and more public, increasing number of critiques started doubting him. La Presse, a French newspaper, once openly criticized Pasteur's belief in aerobic microbes, saying "I am afraid that the experiments you quote, M. Pasteur, will turn against you. The world into which you wish to take us is really too fantastic." However, Pasteur did not forgo his belief. In the end, his persistent proofs and palpable evidence started seeing light (Louis Pasteur History). He started gaining national fame. In 1862, Pasteur was elected as a member of the Académie des Sciencesm, and by the 1870s Pasteur had already achieved considerable respect in France. In 1873, he was elected as an associate member of the Académie de Médecine (Ullman). Despite his growing fame and recognition, however, his new experiments were always somewhat controversial. For instance, when he declared that he had found a vaccine against anthrax germs, there were still those who mocked Pasteur. However, his reputation grew exponentially, until it came to the point where "The Times" in Great Britain praised Pasteur as "one of the scientific glories of France" (Louis Pasteur History).

"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world."


Pasteur's ideas during his time were radical and revolutionary. It completely changed the way people thought about the world. In a period where people thought of bad odor as the cause of disease, the idea (and the evidence, really) of the participation of microbes was extremely hard to accept. Pasteur's ideas gave birth to many fields of studies that are still important today, such as microbiology or immunology. His ideas were a clear breakthrough in terms of public health. People finally came to realize the connection between bad drinking water and health, and the fact that specific organisms that cause specific diseases could be controlled. His successful development of several different types of vaccines contributed to the decline of death rates in Europe, and paved the way to improved health. Pasteur's ideas are still extremely important today. Without having to look far, pasteurized milk is dominating the grocery market this very moment. If not for Pasteur's intuitive, brilliant ideas, most of the health-related privileges that people experience for granted today would not have been born. That is why many people around the globe still remember and cherish Pasteur. His name was, is, and will forever remain etched into history.

a picture of Louis Pasteur

Works cited


"Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine." Germ Theory. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/germtheory>.

"Celiac Disease Hepatitis B Vaccine Failure." Celiac Disease Foundation. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/celiac-disease-vaccinations/>.

"Pasteurization." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasteurization>.

"Louis Pasteur Biography." Louis Pasteur Biography - Family, Children, Parents, School, Son, Old, Information, Born, College, Time. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.


"Louis Pasteur." History Learning Site. 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/a-history-of-medicine/louis-pasteur/>.

Ullmann, Agnes. "Louis Pasteur." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Pasteur/Research-career>.


Created with images by Biblioteca Rector Machado y Nuñez - ""M. Pasteur"."

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