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Not too long ago, the simplest acts were a matter of life and death. Shaking hands, drinking a glass of milk, visiting a sick friend — all of these could have laid you low for reasons few understood. Until Louis Pasteur told us why — and changed the world.
Born in Dole, France, in 1822, Pasteurs impressive list of medical discoveries marks him as the single most important figure in the history of medicine. But his greatest unsung contribution was convincing the world in the mid-1880’s that microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, were responsible not only for souring wine and beer, but for causing deathly infections as well. In addition, he discovered that disease-causing bacteria could be harnessed to prevent disease, a breakthrough that led to the development of life-saving vaccines.
On April 20, 1862, he completed the first successful test of pasteurization, a process of boiling and then cooling fermentable liquids such as milk, wine, and beer to kill the bacteria that caused spoiling. It remains a common practice today in milk preservation, beer brewing, and wine distillation.
In 1879, Pasteur exposed chickens to a small culture of the chicken cholera disease. They became resistant to the actual virus. This was history’s first vaccination. Pasteur used the same process to develop vaccines for anthrax, cholera, tuberculosis, rabies, and smallpox, establishing the branch of science we now know as immunology.
Louis Pasteur was a physicist, chemist, biologist, and microbiologist. We owe our health — and our lives — to his visionary discoveries. And his willingness to not listen to critics.