Louis Pasteur: Saving Lives, One Microbe at a Time

Louis Pasteur (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Louis Pasteur (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1885, Louis Pasteur tested his vaccine for rabies on a boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog.

Here are some things you may not have known about Pasteur.

Louis Pasteur was born in 1822 in eastern France. As a child Pasteur didn’t show much inclination toward science, focusing instead on sketching and fishing. After some struggle, he earned his bachelor of science degree at the age of 23.

Four years after graduating, Pasteur married Marie Laurent. The couple had five children, three of them died of typhoid when they were young. This led Pasteur to focus on curing infectious diseases.

He is best known for the pasteurization process, for disproving the idea of spontaneous generation, and for creating vaccines for rabies and anthrax.

Pasteurization is the process of heating a product in order to kill harmful microbes. Pasteurization falls short of complete sterilization, as some microorganisms survive. The main reason for not sterilizing food is that it can adversely affect the taste and quality of the product, while pasteurization causes less damage.

The idea that microorganisms caused disease was not an idea original to Pasteur, but he did help spread the idea and became known as one of the fathers of germ theory. His work also led to the development of better antiseptic methods during surgery.

Later, Pasteur proved that spontaneous generation did not exist. The idea of spontaneous generation held that organisms could descend from unlike organisms. The usual example of the theory is that of maggots forming from rotting meat. Spontaneous generation held that the maggots were generated by the meat. Pasteur proved that the unrelated organisms are introduced and not generated.

Pasteur built on the earlier work of Edward Jenner in the field of vaccination. Jenner had developed the first vaccine for smallpox in the late 1700s. Jenner’s idea was based on exposing patients to a naturally weakened strain of a bacteria. Pasteur, however, developed the idea of using  a spoiled version of the full strength bacteria to build immunity.

His first work was with chicken cholera. This led to working with anthrax and finally rabies.

His vaccine was first used on 9-year-old Joseph Meister after the boy had been mauled by a rabid dog. Pasteur, who was not a physician and could have faced prosecution for the experiment, went ahead regardless. After three months, the boys had developed no symptoms.

Pasteur died following a stroke in 1895. He was 72.

Our question: With what product was Pasteur experimenting when he came up with the pasteurization process?

Today is Independence Day in Malawi and the Comoros, it’s Statehood Day in Lithuania, and Constitution Day in the Cayman Islands.

It’s unofficially National Fried Chicken Day, International Air Traffic Control Day, and International Kissing Day.

It’s the birthday of painter Frida Kahlo, who was born in 1907; former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan, who was born in 1921; and actor and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, who turns 70.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1972, the top song in the U.S. was “Windy” by The Association.

The No. 1 movie was “The Dirty Dozen,” while the novel “The Arrangement” by Elia Kazan topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly take-home test

Who invented dynamite?


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