Comptes Rendus. Mathématique

Louis Pasteur was born two hundred years ago, on December 27, 1822. The various academies of which he was a member (French Academy of Sciences, Academy of Agriculture of France, Veterinary Academy, Academy of Medicine) have organized, in 2022, events to mark the birthday of the one who was and remains one of the most famous French scientists, and whose work has had consequences that are still felt today, both in science and in our daily life.

The publications of these academies, the Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences (Biologies and Chimie series), the Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'agriculture de France and the Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire published, during the year of celebration, articles that retraced and analyzed the various aspects of an exceptional scientist.

Pasteur's early work on wine tartrates led him to explore the relationship between the shape of crystals and their effect on light, an important link in a story that led to the development of stereochemistry, that part of chemistry that explores the organization of molecules in space. Pasteur had inherited from another astonishing scientist, Jean-Baptiste Biot, the hypothesis according to which the constituent elements of the matter that constitutes life would have been dissymmetrical, which would not have been the case for the mineral world. The visionary nature of these hypotheses is illustrated by the fact that all modern molecular biology attempts to explain biological phenomena by interactions between molecules, interactions dictated by their shape. The current success of Alphafold, a revolutionary artificial intelligence tool that predicts the three-dimensional structure of proteins and identifies important sites, either for their function or for their interactions with other molecules, continues this quest for relationships between the shape of molecules and their functions. Above all, this early work shows many of the qualities that the scientist brought to bear throughout his career: an extraordinarily sustained activity, focused on science, and an extraordinary spirit of synthesis.

After this work in chemistry, Pasteur turned to the study of fermentation, exploring the role played by micro-organisms in the phenomena that lead to beer, wine, vinegar... He revolutionized the food industry, which also benefited from "pasteurization" for the preservation of foodstuffs, a process he had developed for the preservation of wine. All this work founded microbiology.

The major role of microorganisms in the environment, whose importance is nowadays measured, both in agriculture and in the fight against climate change, was highlighted by Pasteur when he showed their intervention in putrefaction, a phenomenon at the basis of the recycling of organic matter.

In Pasteur's time, many people believed in the spontaneous generation of microbes. Pasteur rigorously refuted this theory. He showed that microbes are present everywhere, in the air, in water, on all the objects that surround us, which we were not aware of before.

His demonstration, in addition to that of Robert Koch, that contagious diseases are due to microbes, was at the origin of a rationalization of hygiene, a major element of the increase in life expectancy during the last century, with antibiotics and, of course, vaccines. Beyond this demonstration, a revolution in medicine was set in motion, as diseases began to be defined by their causes and not only by their symptoms.

The manufacture and development of vaccines against infectious diseases were invented by Pasteur, even though the principle of vaccination had been discovered by Alfred Jenner a century earlier. Their importance is no longer in question, especially in this period of pandemic. A pandemic due to a virus, just like rabies, that Pasteur manipulated without seeing or cultivating it, thus becoming, without knowing it, the first virologist!

Beyond these accomplishments, Pasteur has bequeathed us a certain conception of science, which is sometimes called the Pasteurian spirit. It includes, first, rigor and excellence in the way research is conducted, combining intuition, rigor and critical thinking. Second, the maintenance of a permanent link between fundamental research and applications. Thirdly, the importance of communication, in all its forms, which is essential if discoveries are to rapidly benefit the well-being of humanity. Finally, a planetary vision summed up by Pasteur's formula "science has no country" and which has resulted in the creation of a network of Pasteur Institutes, spread over all continents.

While the vaccination against covid meets resistance, while the word of scientists is put - by ideologists - on the same level as speeches of opinions, while we forget that natural sciences have no financial or ideological interests, we must protect our democracies, in particular by a reconciliation of the public with a science from which it is sometimes quite distant.

In this respect, the commemoration of the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Pasteur was an excellent opportunity to recall the advances in science, technology and techniques to which Pasteur contributed, as part of a remarkable line of scientists to whom we owe many of our current ideas. Colleagues from various disciplines have explored the history of Pasteur's work. We hope that this overview (in alphabetical order of authors) will be an effective tribute: inspiring for some who engage in scientific work, enlightening for those who have only a vague idea of the real advances due to Pasteur, useful for those who do not fully appreciate the importance of science in our daily lives.


Pascale Cossart, Maxime Schwartz, Pierre Braunstein, Hervé This and Nadine Vivier
(Download this editorial - in French


Dessin réalisé par l’artiste Fabrice Hyber

Special collection on the occasion of the bicentenary of Pasteur's birth

(in collaboration with Academy of Agriculture and Veterinarian Academy)

Huiles essentielles et chiralité moléculaire

Louisa Aribi-Zouioueche; Françoise Couic-Marinier

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Tome 24 (2021) p. 397-414

Architecture of the molecules of life, a contribution of Louis Pasteur to molecular pharmacology; opportunities for adrenergic pharmacology developments

Morgane Bas; Felipe Hernández; J. Pablo Huidobro-Toro

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, 2020, 23, no. 1, p. 3-16

How has microbiology changed 200 years after Pasteur’s birth?

David Bikard

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 21-33

Louis Pasteur: the child is father of the man

Paul T. Brey

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 51-70

Pasteur the Arboisien

Philippe Bruniaux

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 121-141

Louis Pasteur faced with silkworm disease (1865–1870): from chemist to biologist

Yves Carton

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Tome 25 (2022) p. 315-340

Louis Pasteur, molecular dissymmetry, therapeutic chemistry and neuropharmacology

Jean-Pierre Changeux

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 7-20

Pasteur and “motivated” research

Antoine Danchin

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 109-119

Pasteur at the Academy of Medicine: from hygiene to germ theory

Patrice Debré

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 83-92

Louis Pasteur and the silk worm diseases: an epistemological view on the researches on pebrine

Claude Debru

Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'Agriculture de France (N3AF), 2022, 14(4), 1-14

Louis Pasteur, lecturer in chemistry at the School of Pharmacy of Strasbourg (1849–1850)

Guy Dirheimer

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Tome 25 (2022) p. 289-294

Financing the early years of the Institut Pasteur: an analysis of the fundraising campaign (1886-1891)

Gabriel Galvez-Behar

Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'Agriculture de France (N3AF), 2022, 14(5), 1-15

Pasteur et pastoriens : un certain style en science

François Jacob

La Vie des Sciences, Comptes Rendus, série générale, 1987, t. 4, n° 5, p. 437-447

Louis Pasteur in Lille: from chemistry to microbiology

Jean-Michel Lecerf

Academic Notes from the French Academy of Agriculture (N3AF), 2022, 14(4), 1-11

Louis Pasteur as a bacteriologist: from virulence mitigation to vaccination

Henri Monteil

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Tome 25 (2022) p. 307-313

Pasteur and the veterinarians

Gérard Orth

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 71-81

Pasteur: the scientist beneath the artist

Annick Perrot

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Tome 25 (2022) p. 171-177

Silkworm, science worm

Daniel Raichvarg

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 35-50

How and why veterinarians allowed Louis Pasteur to become a "benefactor of mankind": the essential role played by Henri Bouley

Serge-Georges Rosolen

Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire de France, Tome 175 (2022) p. 1-24

Franco-Prussian Duel: when Emile Alglave's scientific journal adressed the disputes between Louis Pasteur and Rudolf Virchow

Serge-Georges Rosolen and Jean Dupouy-Camet

Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire de France, Tome 176 (2023) p. 1-9

The Pasteurian contribution to the history of vaccines

Maxime Schwartz

Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Tome 345 (2022) p. 93-107

Pasteur, his nephew and veterinary science

Maxime Schwartz

Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire de France, Tome 175 (2022) p. 1-10

Crystals prepared by Auguste Laurent and techniques for optical analysis from Jean-Baptiste Biot were directly at the origin of the discovery of chirality by Louis Pasteur

Hervé This

Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'Agriculture de France (N3AF), 2022, 14(4), 1-33

Louis Pasteur, from physical chemistry to biology

Hervé This

Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Tome 25 (2022) p. 237-251


See also Louis Pasteur's speeches at the Academy, transcribed in previous issues of the Comptes rendus des séances hebdomadaires de l'Académie des sciences.