Louis Pasteur – the Father of Medical Microbiology

Louis Pasteur
(1822 – 1895)

On December 27, 1822, French chemist Louis Pasteur was born, who is considered one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases.

Louis Pasteur was born into a poor family as the son of a tanner in France. In his school years the young patriot was an average student, favoring drawing and painting various images. Still he earned his Bachelor of Science in 1842 and became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, where he met his future wife Marie Laurent. Unfortunately, three of their children suffered from typhoid, which motivated Pasteur to find cures for these cruel diseases.

Before coming to Strasbourg, the young scientist was mainly occupied with tartaric acids, demonstrating chiral molecules for the first time and introducing himself into the scientific community through these results. Later on, Pasteur earned himself a great reputation through his germ theory of fermentation. He performed several experiments showing that fermentation results from growing micro-organisms and that growing bacteria results from biogenesis instead of spontaneous generation. Even though, Pasteur was not the first to publish these ideas, he was the one performing experiments showing the results more accurate and more correct, which convinced whole Europe very soon. Today, Pasteur counts as the father of germ theory along with the German physician Robert Koch. After this success, Pasteur continued his research in these fields and invented the process now widely known as pasteurization. When finding out that bacteria and mould were already present in various beverages like wine, milk or beer, Pasteur found out that these liquids had to be heated to kill those bacteria, responsible for the spoiling of beverages. After these findings, the curious scientist Pasteur found out that antiseptic methods in surgery could be used to prevent certain micro-organisms to enter the body and cause diseases. These ideas were later executed by Joseph Lister and meant a revolution in European medical studies.

While working on chicken cholera, Pasteur managed to produce vaccines for this disease and applied his results on rabies. After being tested on a handful of animals, the vaccine was injected to a nine year old boy, who was bitten by a dog. The message that Pasteur saved this boy’s life spread rapidly and the chemist was treated like a hero. However, if the injection was really the cause for the boy’s cure is to be questioned, but still his research achievements paved the way for further approaches in these fields and led to curing millions of people up to this day.

Louis Pasteur’s contributions to medical microbiology are fundamental and were honored with the famous Leeuwenhoeck medal and several Institutes were named after Pasteur. Louis Pasteur passed away on September 28, 1895 near Paris.

At yovist, you may enjoy a video lecture at Yale University by J. Michael McBride talking about Models in 3D Space and Optical Isomers. In the lecture the professor of chemistry explains Louis Pasteur’s artificial seperation of racemic acid.

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