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Light, Beer, Shots, and Mad Dogs

Vincent G Valentine, MD

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This is not an article about the innovative neighborhood pub, where you can drink beer and take shots until the light of day at a self-serve beer table in the lower Haight of San Francisco named, The Mad Dog in the Fog, where soccer is called football and you can watch the World Cup. By the end of this article, you will recognize that this title has everything to do with the theme of this issue and can be summed up by our father of germ theory. He has also been considered the father of microbiology and immunology. Not unlike Lincoln, he had a poor and humble beginning and developed "inescapable forward moving logic." But, unlike Lincoln, he received extensive formal education with an early meteoric rise from his work on crystals as a young chemist.

Because of controversies brewing in France—not with Darwin's Origin of Species, but with the origin of life itself—he burst into the scene of French Science when he discovered that some crystals were identical in chemical properties and every other aspect except that they were mirror images of each other. These non-superimposable mirror images bent polarized light in opposite directions at the same angle. He boldly declared that such optical activity was associated with life and that optical inactivity was associated with death and decay. At the same time, he developed a clear understanding of fermentation. Many of the products of fermentation were optically active; therefore, he reasoned that fermentation was a consequence of the biological activity of brewer's yeast. This knowledge of light and fermentation led him to debunk the prevailing concept of spontaneous generation which had not only greatly influenced science but also had significant social, political, and religious implications in Europe.

He was never one to pass up an opportunity to bring attention to himself in a dramatic fashion. He made impressive demonstrations of his new discoveries. With this flair for drama and his rationale that germs could not appear supernaturally from boiled infusions, he answered the question, "Where did microbes come from if there was no spontaneous generation?" In a grand public lecture in 1864, he darkened the lecture room and projected a ray of light. Then he pointed to the dust particles in the light beam and exclaimed, "There is your source of germs - dust!" No microorganism, when exposed to a dust-free environment, can exist (recall the swan neck flask).

His fame continued with the discovery of microbes spoiling beer, milk, and wine, and attacking silkworms. With this discovery, he became a beacon in the fog by positing, "If microbes could make beer sick, could they do the same to humans?" Therefore, for the first time—if we know the cause of disease, germs or microbes, then we can better look for a cure. But his claim to fame did not stop there. With age, he was just getting started.

Later in his career, he turned to studying vaccines. His understanding of fermentation and disease confirmed his beliefs about disease and immunity through the activity of microbes. He saved the sheep of Europe by his creation of the anthrax vaccine. He was elevated to mythical status in the history of science with the creation of a vaccine for rabies in 1885.

At this point in human history, there is no record of any man or beast recovering from the germs of hydrophobia once the symptoms of rabies emerged. His obsession to solve this riddle came from the haunting cries of suffering children and the wails of mad dogs curdling the blood of his childhood neighbors. Here was a scientist who refused to shake people's hands, but was willing to place his bearded face within inches of those fangs whose snap! meant a crazed death as he sucked up the froth into a tube during his hunt for the microbe of hydrophobia. Through his perseverance, observations, experimentations, and reasoning, he finally found a means to weaken this mysterious and unseen microbe. He created a plan of fourteen progressively stronger inoculations and confirmed immunity in his test animals against the most virulent unseen assassin. "It was an unheard-of triumph!"

Once word got out, messages from all over the world came in begging him to use his vaccine on humans bitten by mad dogs. But it was not tested in humans. With his tendency for theatrics, he was tempted to inoculate himself with rabies and, knowing that it took two weeks for the neurologic manifestations to emerge, he would give himself his 14 inoculations. It was then when the mother of a 9-year-old begged him to save her boy who was mangled by a mad dog. On July 6, 1885, the first injection of the attenuated microbes of hydrophobia was given into a human being. After 14 days, this boy completed the fourteen shots and went home to Alsace without a sign of this dreadful disease. Then Paris went mad and this chemist's fame soared from the needs of those all over world. There was a sudden burst of generosity-bringing money in from every country on earth-for building a laboratory to conquer other deadly microbes.

At his 7Oth birthday in 1892, he was honored at the Sorbonne in Paris in the presence of Lister. His son had to speak for this feeble experimental scientist with these words,

"...Do not let yourselves be tainted by a deprecating and barren skepticism, do not let yourselves be discouraged by the sadness of certain hours which pass over nations. Live in the serene peace of laboratories and libraries. Say to yourselves first: "What have I done for my instruction?" And, as you gradually advance, "What have I done for my country?" Until the time comes when you may have the immense happiness of thinking that you have contributed in some way to the progress and good of humanity...."

So, are you sufficiently pasteurized? If not, try this tidbit:

A milkman was making his deliveries and found a note attached to a customer's door saying "I need 30 gallons of milk." He knocked on the door and a beautiful blonde woman answered it.

"Is this a mistake?" the milkman asked.

"No," she said, "I was watching a talk show and it said that bathing in milk will make you beautiful."

"Really," replied the milkman. "Do you want that pasteurized?"

The blonde replied, "No, just up to my waist."

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.