Félix d'Herelle (1873-1949)
French-Canadian bacteriologist, born in Paris, on April 25, 1873, whose father was unknown and his mother Augustine Haerens was living on her pension ; the name "d'Herelle" might be short for "Haerens d' Herelle"; his younger brother Daniel was born in 1875.
1887-1892 Attended the "Lycée Condorcet" (or "Ecole Monge") and "Lycée Louis-le-Grand" high schools, in Paris ; having fallen behind at school with poor academic performance, he gave up his studies before obtaining his high school degree, when 17 years old.
1893 Together with his brother Daniel, enroled in the French army as a volunteer.
1894 Deserted the army, for unknown reasons ; traveled to Belgium, Turkey, Greece ; married Marie Caire, with whom he had two daughters.
1897-1901 Traveled to Quebec (Canada) where he established a whiskey distillery and studied the fermentation and distillation of maple syrup to schnapps. In 1899, took part in a geological expedition in search for gold in Labrador. With his brother Daniel, he set up and managed a chocolate factory, which went bankrupt in 1901, leading to the brothers d'Herelle's ruin.
1901-1906 Studied microbiology from books, in a self-taught way, then worked as a bacteriologist on yellow fever at the hospital in Guatemala City (Guatemala).
1907-1911 Took an offer from the Mexican government to continue his studies on fermentation, at a sisal plantation near Merida (Mexico), and developed a method to produce sisal schnapps ; isolated the infectious agent that causes enteritis in grasshoppers.
1911-1921 Moved to Paris and worked as a research assistant in a laboratory at the Institut Pasteur, in collaboration with A. Salimbeni, C. Delezenne, E. Pozerski and G. Eliava. Took part in many research missions organized by the Institut Pasteur and traveled to Argentina, Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Mexico.
1915 During World War I, he observed for the first time the phenomenon of bacteriolysis by a "phage" infecting cultures of bacteria, while W.F. Twort independently published that the bacteria can be infected and killed by an unknown small agent.
1917 Published his discovery of "an invisible antagonistic microbe of the dysentery bacillus" that he described as a living corpuscular organism causing the bacteriolysis ; he named it "bacteriophage" ; he developed a method of isolation of the bacteriophages, based on their filterable and transferable properties.
1919-1920 Impressed by the possibility for antibacterial therapy afforded by the bacteriophages, he succeeded in treating experimental infected animals with bacteriophage preparations designed to cure a variety of infectious diseases (such as chicken typhus) ; ready for the trial on humans, he used the bacteriophage therapy successfully to heal patients of human dysentery and childhood diarrhea ; traveled to Indochina and conducted research on cholera and plague.
1921 Published "The bacteriophage : its role in immunity", where he described his achievements at the Institut Pasteur, in the study of the bacteriophage and theorized that it can reproduce inside the bacterium.
1921-1924 Left the Institut Pasteur and traveled to Leiden (The Netherlands), where he held a temporary position of curator at the Institute of Tropical Pathology.
1925-1926 Became Director of the Bacteriology Laboratory of the Quarantine Station in Alexandria (Egypt), sponsored by the League of Nations.
1926 The novel "Arrowsmith" was published by the American writer Lewis Sinclair (who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature) : it staged an idealistic physician, based to a certain extent on the life of d'Herelle ; became a foreign corresponding member of the French Society of Biology ( Société de biologie ).
1927 As a collaborator of the Indian Medical Service, he isolated phages from cholera victims in India ; demonstrated the efficiency of bacteriophage therapy in cholera prophylaxis.
1928-1934 Accepted a professorship at Yale University (USA) ; attended many congress at Montreal, Paris, Baltimore, Roma, Marseille, Ann Arbor.
1934-1936 Traveled to USSR in Tbilisi (Tiflis), Kiev, Kharkov, where he organized the research on the bacteriophage, at the Soviet government's request.
1936 Left the USSR, after the execution of his friend George Eliava, during one of the Staline's purges ; by returning to Paris, he created and directed a laboratory for bacteriophage production and therapy, in the street "rue Olivier de Serre".
1937-1940 In collaboration with the Institut Pasteur and the Radium Institute in Paris, continued research on the properties of the bacteriophage, and proved that it is a virus and not an enzyme, as proposed by J. Bordet.
1938 Edition of the book "Le phénomène de la guérison dans les maladies infectieuses" about the phenomenon of recovery in infectious diseases.
1940-1945 Kept under house arrest by the German and French occupation authorities ; wrote "The value of experiment", as well as his memoirs (unpublished), "Les pérégrinations d'un microbiologiste".
1947 At the Institut Pasteur, 30th anniversary of d'Herelle's discovery of the bacteriophage ; lecture "Le bactériophage dans la nature" (the bacteriophage existing in nature).
1948 Received the prize Petit-d'Ormoy from the French Academy of Sciences.
1949 Died in Paris ; he was burried in Saint-Mards-en-Othe (Aube, France), where he had a country house.
Collaborators : G. Eliava, L. Géry, P. Hauduroy, M. Lahire, G. Le Louet, R. Malone, E. Peyre, E. Pozerski, R. Beecroft, H. Seidelin, V. Sertic, M. Rakieten.
Biographical reference tools :
- Dublanchet (Alain), "La vraie vie de Félix d'Herelle avant la découverte du bactériophage", Association des anciens élèves de l'Institut Pasteur, n° 175, 2003, pp. 80-82.
- Summers (William C.), "Cholera and plague in India : the bacteriophage inquiry of 1927-1936", Journal of the history of medicine, vol. 48, 1993, pp. 275-301.
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