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Further, he noted that all molecules in living things were left-handed. This was vitally important for understanding three-dimensional structures, especially in the science of crystallography. Before Pasteur came along, most people believed in the notion of spontaneous generation , the idea that bacteria, microbes, germs and life in general appeared essentially out of nowhere, or from things like dust, dead flesh and even maggots.

The same theory was thus applied to illnesses: Weakness in an individual and the associated internal physical changes was presumed to allow these germs to appear, causing illnesses in an accordingly spontaneous way. Pasteur, on the other hand, believed that these illnesses must arise from micro-organisms that themselves came from living things.

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That is, he theorized that "germs" didn't just appear out from scratch; they were living things in their own right. He achieved this through a series of elegant experiments that proved that food spoilage was a result of unseen elements in the air. People were skeptical because Pasteur was not even a physician, but his work led to the development of antiseptics and revolutionized medicine.

In his now-famous work involving fermentation , which is the oxygen-independent conversion of sugar by-products to alcohol and lactic acid, Pasteur showed that yeast is a living thing and an active part of the fermentation process.

This was important in that it established fermentation as a biological process and not simply a chemical one. Pasteur demonstrated that when air was pumped through the fermenting fluid, fermentation stopped. This showed that some kind of living organism that requires an oxygen-free environment has to be a part of the process.

He was able to show that different microbes are responsible for different types of fermentation.


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Pasteur was not the first to propose that unseen things in the environment could cause disease, but he was the first to offer evidence for the claim. In experiments with beef broth, Pasteur showed that food would only spoil when exposed to microbes that were already present in the air. He applied these and similar findings to generate an elaborate germ theory of disease , which stated that bacteria and microbes cause disease, and that both diseases and their tiny causes exist in the world just like humans and other animals, rather than arising de novo "from nothing".

Louis Pasteur Biography - Life of French Chemist & Microbiologist

This was no mere academic matter. By isolating a specific physical cause for diseases, Pasteur offered hope that these diseases could be prevented, thereby possibly staving off deaths like those that three of his children and countless others across Europe — for example, in the "Black Death" or bubonic plague of the 14th century, caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria — had suffered. Having come to understand that food and other things go bad not for mysterious or unpredictable reasons but because of bacteria, Pasteur was ready to address his home country's wine problem.

France had long been economically reliant on wine. Much of it was spoiling in transit because of bacterial contamination, but boiling the wine to kill the bacteria ruined the product. Using his signature methodical approach, Pasteur found that raising the wine to a certain intermediate temperature 55 C, or about F killed the bacteria without ruining the wine.

This process, now fittingly called pasteurization , has become universal in the food industry. Pasteur's work with silkworms: Having rescued the wine industry, Pasteur used his knowledge of germ theory and disease to identify a parasite that was causing silkworm diseases. Human Behavior. Our Planet. Earth Optimism Summit. Ingenuity Ingenuity Festival. The Innovative Spirit. Travel Taiwan.

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