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Biographical sketch
Jules Bordet (1870-1961)
version française  
 

Belgian physician, immunologist and bacteriologist, born on June 13, 1870 in Soignies (Belgium). His father was a teacher. His elder brother Charles was born in 1868.
1880-1886 Having been one of his father's pupil, he went to the secondary school "Athénée Royal", in Brussels.
1886 Enrollment in medical training at the Medical School of Brussels ("Université Libre de Bruxelles") together with his brother Charles. His masters, Paul Héger and Leo Errera, made him seek to conduct scientific research.
1892 Graduated as Doctor in Medicine.
1894 A grant from the Belgian government enabled him to join the Institut Pasteur in Paris and to work in Elie Metchnikoff 's laboratory, a famous zoologist who had just discovered the phagocytosis of microbes by white blood cells and set the basis of cellular immunity. He remained there until 1901.
1895 Carried out in vitro studies on the phenomenon previously described by R. Pfeiffer ; he demonstrated the mechanisms of agglutination and bacteriolysis by which an antimicrobic serum acts and he thus set the basis of humoral immunity as part of the defences against invading microorganisms ; proved that antimicrobic sera include two active substances : one of them is non-specific, innate and thermolabile, known as "alexine" or "complement", and the other one is a specific and thermostable antibody, created by vaccination, which binds to the microbic antigen and sensitizes it to complement ; once the complement is bound to the antigen antibody complex (called the reaction of complement fixation), it attacks the antigen and the bacterium is destroyed by bacteriolysis ; he also showed that the antibodies are responsible for the agglutination occurring before the bacteriolysis, without the involvement of the complement.
1895 (Nov.)-1896 (Jan.) Attended the microbiology course of the Institut Pasteur (cours de microbiologie).
1896 Nominated at the position as "Docteur Spécial" at the "Université Libre" in Brussels, following the report of his recent work.
1897 On behalf of the Institut Pasteur, he traveled to the Transvaal Province in South Africa, where rinderpest (cattle plague) was killing cattle. With J. Danysz and Theiler, recommended serovaccination, which eradicated the disease rapidly. He met there Robert Koch, who was conducting similar research.
1898-1904 Discovered haemolytic sera and showed that the mechanism of their action on foreign blood is similar to that by which bacteriolytic sera act to destroy microbes ; he developed serodiagnosis methods which allowed to distinguish different animal species and to recognize blood groups (for medico legal diagnosis), from a sample of blood.
1899 Married Marthe Levoz, with whom he had three children : Simone, Marguerite and Paul (P. Bordet).
1901-1940 At the Brabant government's request, became the first director of the anti-rabies and bacteriological institute, in Brussels (which was named the "Pasteur Institute of Brabant" in 1903).
1901-1903 Having the idea to use the reaction of complement fixation to detect a specific immune reaction, he developed, with O. Gengou, several serodiagnosis tests that indicate the presence of some specific agent that causes infectious diseases, such as typhoid, plague, anthrax, erypeloid.
1901-1919 His research on the antigen antibody reaction formed the basis of Bordet's theory of the variable binding ratio ("union en proportion variable"), as opposed to P. Ehrlich's theory, which predicted a constant binding ratio : the amount of antibodies bound to a known amount of antigens may depend on the total ratio between the different active substances. With Sleeswyk, he recognized the antigenic variability of bacterial species which depends on the culture medium. He described the phenomenon of "conglutination" of the antigen antibody complexes in the presence of beef serum and that of co-agglutination. He also contributed much towards the understanding of blood coagulation by studying the production and the properties of thrombin.
1906 Together with O. Gengou, he isolated Bordetella pertussis in pure culture and posited it as the cause of whooping cough.
1907 With Fally, discovered the microbe that causes avian diphtheria. Became a corresponding member of the French Society of Biology (Société de Biologie).
1907-1935 Named Professor of Bacteriology at the "Université Libre de Bruxelles".
1909-1910 Described, for the first time, the infectious agent that causes bovine pleuropneumonia.
1914-1920 During First World War, wrote and published the "Treatise on immunity in infectious diseases" (Traité de l'immunité dans les maladies infectieuses), 2nd ed., 1938.
1919 The Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to him for his discoveries relating to immunity.
1920-1941 Conducted research on bacteriophages (previously discovered by F. d'Herelle ) and on lysogeny.
1921 Elected corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences, then associated member in 1923.
1930 Chair, 1st International Microbiology Congress, in Paris.
1938 Gained the award of the "Grand Croix de la Légion d'Honneur", for his contribution to the French culture.
1934-1940 After A. Calmette and E. Roux died, became President of the scientific council of the Institut Pasteur in Paris (to which G. Bertrand, A. Borrel, F. Mesnil, Ch. Nicolle, A. Yersin belonged).
1940 When World War II broke out, he was remaining at the head of the Pasteur Institute of Brabant and had to serve as director at the central laboratory of the Health Service in the Belgian Army ; with his laboratory, he went into exile in France ; after the Armistice (on June 23th, 1940), he came back to Brussels.
1942 Forbidden to exercise any public function by the German military authorities.
1944 Threatened of death by the Milices Rexites and VNV ; had to hide with relatives until the end of the war.
1946 Because he was troubled by weak eyesight, he retired ; published an astronomy handbook and several political books about the conduct of public affairs.
1950 Received public honors, which were organized by the Institut Pasteur of Paris, the Pasteur Institute of Brabant and the "Université Libre de Bruxelles", in the presence of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium ; Sir A. Fleming (on behalf of the foreign scientists), L. Pasteur Vallery-Radot (on behalf of the Institut Pasteur) and G. Ramon (on behalf of the French Academy of Sciences) made a speech.
1961 On April 6th, died in Brussels ; he had state funeral.

Collaborators : P. Bordet, Ciuca, L. Delange, O. Gengou, V. Fally, P. Gay, Jaumain, E. Renaux, Sleeswyk.

Biographical reference tools :
- Bordet (Paul), "Jules Bordet", Florilège des Sciences de Belgique, Académie Royale de Belgique, 1968, pp. 1035-1067.
- Craps (Lucien), La naissance de l'immunologie, Bâle, Sandoz Pharma s.a., 1993, 132 p.
- Govaerts (André), "Jules Bordet", Histoire des pasteuriens, Paris, Institut Pasteur, 1986, 6 p.


 

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