I am on the edge of mysteries and the veil is getting thinner and thinner

Louis Pasteur

Connecting bacteria and disease

Surely one of life’s most delicious ironies is that the man who spent so much of his life working closely with microorganisms…refused to shake hands for fear of contracting germs.

The French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur was the first person to conclusively prove the link between bacteria and disease. But he is of course best known for the process that bears his name – pasteurization.

Louis Pasteur

Pasteurization was originally developed to prevent spoilage in the French wine industry. Through a series of strictly controlled experiments Pasteur discovered that bacteria was responsible for contaminating wine; and while boiling the wine killed the bacteria…it also killed the flavor.

Pasteur solved the problem by heating the wine just enough to kill the microbes – but crucially without compromising the taste; a process that soon proved equally effective for milk and other foodstuffs.

From his work with bacteria Pasteur became an early pioneer of industrial fermentation (a subject close to DSM’s heart); invented the first anthrax vaccines; discovered molecular asymmetry - the ability of organic substances to rotate the plane of polarized light; and also discovered stereoisomers.

Like all great scientists, Pasteur faced adversity. Despite saving many millions of lives, Pasteur was unable to save those of his own children – three of whom succumbed to typhoid fever before reaching adulthood.

Not even a life-threatening stroke and paralysis suffered in 1868 while still in his forties could stop Pasteur.

Some 17 years later, a nine year-old boy called Joseph Meister became the first of millions of people to benefit from the Frenchman’s other great achievement – the rabies vaccine.

If bright science were to be measured purely on its ability to save lives, Pasteur’s star must surely shine the brightest.

Legendary Pioneers