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
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Dessin réalisé par l’artiste Fabrice Hyber
Aribi-Zouioueche, Louisa; Couic-Marinier, Françoise
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 24 (2021) no. 3, pp. 397-414
Bas, Morgane; Hernández, Felipe; Pablo Huidobro-Toro, J.
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 23 (2020) no. 1, pp. 3-16
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 21-33
Brey, Paul T.
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 51-70
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 121-141
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 25 (2022) no. G1, pp. 315-340
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 7-20
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 109-119
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 83-92
Louis Pasteur et les maladies des vers à soie : un regard épistémologique sur les recherches sur la pébrine / Louis Pasteur and the silk worm diseases: an epistemological view on the researches on pebrine
Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'agriculture de France / Academic Notes of the French Academy of Agriculture, Volume 14 (2022), pp. 1-14
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 25 (2022) no. G1, pp. 289-293
Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'agriculture de France / Academic Notes of the French Academy of Agriculture, Volume 14 (2022), pp. 1-15
Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'agriculture de France / Academic Notes of the French Academy of Agriculture, Volume 14 (2022), pp. 1-11
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 25 (2022) no. G1, pp. 307-313
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 71-81
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 25 (2022) no. G1, pp. 171-177
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 35-50
Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire de France, Volume 175 (2022)
Serge-Georges Rosolen et Jean Dupouy-Camet
Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire de France, Tome 176 (2023) p. 1-9
Comptes Rendus. Biologies, Volume 345 (2022) no. 3, pp. 93-107
Bulletin de l'Académie vétérinaire de France, Volume 175 (2022)
Des cristaux d’Auguste Laurent et des techniques d’analyse optique de Jean-Baptiste Biot furent directement à l’origine de la découverte de la chiralité par Louis Pasteur / The crystals of Auguste Laurent and the optical analysis techniques of Jean-Baptiste Biot were directly responsible for the discovery of chirality by Louis Pasteur
This vo Kientza, Hervé
Notes Académiques de l'Académie d'agriculture de France / Academic Notes of the French Academy of Agriculture, Volume 12 (2021), pp. 1-33
Comptes Rendus. Chimie, Volume 25 (2022) no. G1, pp. 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.