Tag Archives: anthrax

“Louis Pasteur: The Ultimate Risk-Taker?”



Louis Pasteur was undoubtedly one of the most famous figures involved with the birth of “modern microbiology”. Here is a brief timeline of his life and major acheivements:


1822 : Pasteur born in Dole, France.

1848 : Pasteur became the professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

1849 : On 29 May Pasteur married Marie Laurent, daughter of a rector.
1862 : Demonstrated the process now known as pasteurisation.
1868 : Pasteur suffered from several strokes, causing a degree of residual paralysis. He was nevertheless able to continue with his research.
1879 : Pasteur developed a method for vaccinating chickens against “chicken cholera” using an attenuated strain of the virus.
1879 : Pasteur developed anthrax vaccine for sheep and demonstrated the efficacy of the vaccine in a publicly conducted experiment in 1881.
1885 : During the early 1880s he developed a rabies vaccine and he performed his first human rabies vaccination on 6 July on a young boy of 9 (Joseph Meister) who was bitten by a mad dog having rabies. The vaccine was prepared from dessicated spinal cord tissue taken from a “rabid” dog.

1887 : The Pasteur Institute was created in his honour.
1895 : Pasteur received Leeuwenhoek medal which is regarded as microbiology’s highest Dutch honour in Arts and Sciences

1895 : He died on 28 September. He was buried at Notre Dame cathedral but his remains have since been re-interred at the Pasteur Institute.
Pasteur seemed to like taking sole credit for all the work he was involved with, even though other people were at times equally involved. Despite this, he was clearly an outstanding scientist. In particular, he was not afraid to take extraordinary risks. This was initially demonstrated in his very public anthrax vaccine experiment on sheep at Pouilly-Le-Fort. However probably the riskiest experiment he ever conducted was the first human rabies vaccination on Joseph Meister. As well as the high clinical risk of such a procedure, it is also worthwhile remembering that Pasteur was not even licensed as a doctor. Fortunately for him, the experiment worked. An adverse result may have changed his place in history. (I think it is fair to say his research would not have got very far with the ethics committees of today!)
Nothing much in life is ever acheived without taking a few risks now and again. Pasteur was a classical example of this…..
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  Robert F. Kennedy