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Wednesday 28 September 2016 Instagram
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Wine and drugs - did you know the connection?

Wine and drugs - did you know the connection?


While on a recent holiday, Sheila Beaumont discovered there was a lot more to Louis Pasteur than pasteurisation. This one man who came from very humble beginnings really did revolutionise healthcare

I have been on holiday these past two weeks so haven't really given much thought to health matters. That is until a couple of trips we made from the tiny village where we were staying in the Jura.

These were to Dole and Arbois, the former being the birthplace of Louis Pasteur while the latter was the place to where his family moved when he was five years old and where he lived until his late teens, returning to it year after year whenever possible.

Both houses are now museums dedicated to commemorating his life and work. Each town is obviously proud of their famous son with streets, roads, avenues, squares and even the local college named after him. (Do we do the same for our famous scientists? The only one I know of is Flemming Way on Crawley's industrial estate where some of the pharmaceutical companies are situated).

Pasteur's parents were fairly ordinary and there was no tradition of learning in the family. They were tanners, running their own business so maybe this is how their son developed his passion for chemistry, seeing how ordinary animal hides were converted into beautiful leathers by a stepwise process using various chemicals.

Going round the Pasteur family home in Arbois was really fascinating. Displayed in the room he had converted into a laboratory were his microscope and original notebooks with the drawings of the microbes he saw under it. There was a bench with a Bunsen burner and jars and bottles containing the different chemicals that he used in his research and importantly, a number of the "swan necked flasks" containing chicken broth that he used to show that contamination of material is due to microorganisms, so disproving the "theory of spontaneous generation".

We were also shown the room where the local farmers and wine growers used to come to consult the great man on their own illnesses, those of their livestock and the problems that they had with their wine making.

What I didn't fully appreciate until my visit, was that Pasteur had spent a great deal of time and energy on research into fermentation and the effects of microbes on wine production, such that he is considered to be the father of the modern wine making process (oenology). Arbois is the centre of the Jura wine  region and in the nineteenth century the town's trade and prosperity depended on a thriving wine trade; so if during the process of making the famous "yellow wine" and "straw wine" (let alone the more ordinary wines) they became contaminated and undrinkable, then a whole year's production would be lost and much hardship would result.

So to local farmers and wine makers Louis Pasteur was a saviour and it is therefore little wonder that so many of the thoroughfares of Dole and Arbois are named after him. In the Dole house there is an exhibition on all of Pasteur's work, and the spin off it has had on many aspects of today's healthcare.

Although as a healthcare professional I was well aware of the huge contribution Pasteur made to the world of health and medicine, with his research into viral and microbe infections, his work on preventive immunology, the first use of rabies vaccine, and of course pasteurisation, I hadn't made the connection that his work on fermentation enabled the early production of antibiotics to be made on an industrial scale by the self same process that is used by wine makers the world over.

Maybe this small nugget of information will be useful if ever I were to appear on "The weakest link"! More importantly though it made me think what a huge debt we all owe to just one man who came from a very humble background.

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