Elie Metchnikoff (1845-1916)
Russian zoologist and microbiologist, born on May 16, 1845, in Ivanovska, near Kharkoff (Ukraine, Russia) to a family of five children ; he was the youngest son of Ilya Metchnikoff, who was an officer of the Imperial Guard.
1856-1864 Went to school at Kharkoff, then attended the University of Kharkoff to study natural sciences. He was deeply influenced by Charles Darwin's publication, The Origin of Species.
1864-1867 Traveled to Europe for a three-year study trip : studied the marine fauna on the North Sea island of Heligoland (Germany), under the botanist Kohn ; then at the University of Giessen (Germany), where he worked under the zoologist Leuckart ; traveled to Naples (Italy) and conducted research in zoology, with Kovalevsky, which paved the way for embryology.
1867 Thesis defense for doctorate, at the University of St. Petersburg, on the embryonic development and the formation of germ layers in arthropods (among other species).
1869 Married Ludmilla Vassilievna Feodorovitch.
1869-1873 Appointed as docent at the University of St. Petersburg, then nominated to the position as Titular Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at the University of Odessa. Traveled to the Atlantic and Mediterranean Coasts (La Spezia, San Remo, Villefranche, Saint-Vaast, Madeira) for studying the marine fauna, as well as for seeking out a conducive climate to his wife's health, who suffered from severe tuberculosis ; had problems with money.
1873 His wife died from tuberculosis on April, 20, in Madeira. Broken by this loss, he tried to take his own life. Returned to Russia and continued his appointment at the university. He was troubled by weak eyesight, especially when working under a microscope. Being interested in anthropology, participated in two expeditions to the Astrakhan steppes where Kalmyk people resided.
1874 Married his second wife, Olga Belokopitova.
1882 Traveled to Messina (Italy) with his wife and resumed his studies on the pelagic fauna and the embryonic development of marine microorganisms. By observing mobile cells in the transparent larvae of starfishes, he anticipated that similar cells might serve as part of the defences of the organism against invading microorganisms ; to test this idea, he demonstrated that certain cells, unconnected with digestion, surrounded and engulfed harmful bodies that he had introduced into starfish larvae.
1883 In Messina, while discovering this phenomenon, he met two German researchers R. Virchow and N. Kleinenberg who suggested him to publish his results about the cellular response in animals deprived of a blood vascular system ; the terms "phagocyte" and "phagocytosis" thus appeared for the first time (Works of the Institute of Zoology, Vienna).
1885 Following the publication of L. Pasteur's results in vaccine treatment of rabies, N. Gamaleïa was mandated by the authorities of Odessa to study the new method in Paris ; returning to Odessa, the municipal authorities and the elected assembly ("Zemstvo"), in Kherson's government, established the Institute of Bacteriology in Odessa. E. Metchnikoff, N. Gamaleïa and I. Bardach were appointed as assistant directors and carried out Pasteur's vaccine treatment of of rabies.
1888 Due to some hostility with medical and administrative authorities, and with several workers at the Institute of Bacteriology, he left Odessa and went to Paris.
1888-1916 On October, Pasteur gave him a laboratory (Service de microbie morphologique) and an appointment in the Institut Pasteur in Paris. His most notable achievement was his recognition of the phagocytosis which formed the basis of Metchnikoff's theory of cellular immunity ; he also contributed in scientific advances in various fields such as infectious diseases, intestinal flora, senility.
1890 Named member of the editorial board of The Annales de l'Institut Pasteur, along with E. Duclaux, Ch. Chamberland, J.-J. Grancher, Ed. Nocard, E. Roux, I. Straus.
1890-1893 Gave several lectures at the microbiology course (cours de microbiologie) of the Institut Pasteur.
1893-1914 Named Professor at the microbiology course of the Institut Pasteur.
1891 On Louis Pasteur's behalf, traveled to Switzerland and offered S. Winogradsky an appointment as head of laboratory at the Institut Pasteur. Became an associated member of the French Society of Biology (Société de Biologie).
1904-1916 Nominated as Assistant Director of the Institut Pasteur.
1908 Together with Paul Ehrlich, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, for his fundamental work in immunity. Became an honorary member of the French Society of Exotic Pathology (Société de Pathologie Exotique, SPE).
1911 With Et. Burnet, A. Salimbeni and Iamanouchi, led a "bacteriological study mission" of the Institut Pasteur to Russia ; in Moscow, Tarassevitch and Choukevitch joined them, as well as the physicians of the Russian mission for bubonic plague (pest) study, in Astrakan ; using the von Pirquet's diagnosis method (intradermal tuberculin inoculation), for the first time in an epidemiological study, they stated that the Kalmyk population was free from tuberculosis infection. In addition, the mission studied a plague epidemic occurring in the Kyrgyz steppes and pointed out the persistence of pest infection in the foci of steppe rodents.
1916 On July 16, died at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. At his request, the urn containing his ashes was kept in the library of the Institut Pasteur.
Collaborators : Berthelot, A. Besredka, Et. Burnet, Ed. Claparède, Distaso, Roudenko, F. Mesnil, Ed. Pozerski, E. Roux, A. Salimbeni, Soudakevitch, L. Tarassevitch, M. Weinberg, Eug. Wollman.
Biographical reference tools :
- Metchnikoff (Olga), Vie d'Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916, Paris, Librairie Hachette, 272 p., 1920.
Service des Archives de l'Institut Pasteur