VIII. NINETEENTH-CENTURY MEDICINE
The controversy over spontaneous generation, which, thanks to Pasteur and Tyndall, had just been brought to a termination, made it clear that no bacterium need be feared where an antecedent bacterium had not found lodgment; Listerism in surgery had now shown how much might be accomplished towards preventing the access of germs to abraded surfaces of the body and destroying those that already had found lodgment there. As yet, however, there was no inkling of a way in which a corresponding onslaught might be made upon those other germs which find their way into the animal organism by way of the mouth and the nostrils, and which, as was now clear, are the cause of those contagious diseases which, first and last, claim so large a proportion of mankind for their victims. How such means might be found now became the anxious thought of every imaginative physician, of every working microbiologist.
As it happened, the world was not kept long in suspense. Almost before the proposition had taken shape in the minds of the other leaders, Pasteur had found a solution. Guided by the empirical success of Jenner, he, like many others, had long practised inoculation experiments, and on February 9, 1880, he announced to the French Academy of Sciences that he had found a method of so reducing the virulence of a disease germ that when introduced into the system of a susceptible animal it produced only a mild form of the disease, which, however, sufficed to protect against the usual virulent form exactly as vaccinia protects against small-pox. The particular disease experimented with was that infectious malady of poultry known familiarly as "chicken cholera." In October of the same year Pasteur announced the method by which this "attenuation of the virus," as he termed it, had been brought about—by cultivation of the disease germs in artificial media, exposed to the air, and he did not hesitate to assert his belief that the method would prove "susceptible of generalization"—that is to say, of application to other diseases than the particular one in question.
Within a few months he made good this prophecy, for in February, 1881, he announced to the Academy that with the aid, as before, of his associates MM. Chamberland and Roux, he had produced an attenuated virus of the anthrax microbe by the use of which, as he affirmed with great confidence, he could protect sheep, and presumably cattle, against that fatal malady. "In some recent publications," said Pasteur, "I announced the first case of the attenuation of a virus by experimental methods only. Formed of a special microbe of an extreme minuteness, this virus may be multiplied by artificial culture outside the animal body. These cultures, left alone without any possible external contamination, undergo, in the course of time, modifications of their virulency to a greater or less extent. The oxygen of the atmosphere is said to be the chief cause of these attenuations—that is, this lessening of the facilities of multiplication of the microbe; for it is evident that the difference of virulence is in some way associated with differences of development in the parasitic economy.
"There is no need to insist upon the interesting character of these results and the deductions to be made therefrom. To seek to lessen the virulence by rational means would be to establish, upon an experimental basis, the hope of preparing from an active virus, easily cultivated either in the human or animal body, a vaccine-virus of restrained development capable of preventing the fatal effects of the former. Therefore, we have applied all our energies to investigate the possible generalizing action of atmospheric oxygen in the attenuation of virus.
"The anthrax virus, being one that has been most carefully studied, seemed to be the first that should attract our attention. Every time, however, we encountered a difficulty. Between the microbe of chicken cholera and the microbe of anthrax there exists an essential difference which does not allow the new experiment to be verified by the old. The microbes of chicken cholera do not, in effect, seem to resolve themselves, in their culture, into veritable germs. The latter are merely cells, or articulations always ready to multiply by division, except when the particular conditions in which they become true germs are known.
"The yeast of beer is a striking example of these cellular productions, being able to multiply themselves indefinitely without the apparition of their original spores. There exist many mucedines (Mucedinae?) of tubular mushrooms, which in certain conditions of culture produce a chain of more or less spherical cells called Conidae. The latter, detached from their branches, are able to reproduce themselves in the form of cells, without the appearance, at least with a change in the conditions of culture, of the spores of their respective mucedines. These vegetable organisms can be compared to plants which are cultivated by slipping, and to produce which it is not necessary to have the fruits or the seeds of the mother plant.