Edmond Nocard, discoverer of the Nocardia bacterium

Veterinarian and biologist, this disciple of Louis Pasteur pioneered the study of microbial animal diseases and is considered the founder of veterinary microbiology.


In 1868, Edmond Nocard enrolled in the Veterinary School of Alfort, where he was to spend most of his career. His studies were interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He graduated in 1873 as class valedictorian and became a veterinarian and then head of the clinical department in Alfort.

Joins the Institut Pasteur

Three years later, he had a decisive encounter with the physician Émile Roux, an associate of Louis Pasteur. “At the time, Pasteur’s ideas were starting to shake up the field of medicine and during this first encounter we discussed contagious animal diseases.” Thanks to Roux, Edmond Nocard joined Louis Pasteur's laboratory at rue d’Ulm, Paris, in 1880. “He brought his veterinary knowledge, his quick-wittedness (…) and that remarkable critical spirit that soon made him an indispensable advisor.” Nocard took part in Louis Pasteur’s famous experiments on vaccinating sheep against anthrax disease in Pouilly-le-Fort.

Contribution to the fight against cholera and to the development of anti-diphtheria serotherapy

In 1883, Pasteur sent Nocard to Egypt along with Roux, Thullier and Straus to study a cholera epidemic. On his return, Nocard set up an annex to Pasteur’s laboratory at the Veterinary School of Alfort, which he was director of from 1887 to 1891. Applying Pasteur’s principles and teaching these to his students, he was involved in an impressive number of breakthroughs, and spanned the gap between veterinary medicine and human medicine. Committed to research on tuberculosis prevention, he was behind the ban on spitting on public transport. He was involved in Institut Pasteur innovations such as the development of anti-diphtheria serotherapy, and was appointed to the board in 1895. This early Pasteur acolyte died prematurely in 1903, aged 53. Today, a building at the Institut Pasteur bears his name.

A bacterium called Nocardia

Edmond Nocard’s extensive work secured him international recognition during his own lifetime. He developed methods for harvesting blood serum and tuberculosis bacillus cultures, studied the bacterium responsible for mastitis in cows and discovered mycoplasma and identified it as the cause of bovine pleuropneumonia. He turned tuberculin and mallein into major weapons in the battle against bovine tuberculosis and equine glanders, two bacterial diseases that were transmissible to humans and decimating livestock at the time… One genus of bacterium was called Nocardia in his honor, after his discovery of the agent responsible for bovine farcy (N. farcinia). Another Nocardia can cause nocardiosis in humans, affecting mainly immunocompromised individuals. Nocard also contributed to a major medical breakthrough after his death, by giving his student Camille Guérin a bovine tuberculosis bacillus culture that gave rise to the BCG: Bacillus Calmette-Guérin.

Timeline of the life of Edmon Nocard

> January 29, 1850
Born in Provins.

> 1868-1871
Enrolls at the Veterinary School of Alfort.

> 1870-1871
Enlists in the army during the Franco-Prussian war.

> 1871-1873
Returns to his studies. Qualifies as a veterinarian.

> 1873-1887
Head of the clinical department and then, from 1878, clinical and surgical professor at the Veterinary School of Alfort.

> 1880
Joins Louis Pasteur's laboratory at the École Normale Supérieure.

> 1881-1882
Takes part in Pasteur’s anti-anthrax vaccination experiments in Pouilly-le-Fort, and then vaccinates thousands of animals along with Émile Roux.

> 1883
Travels to Egypt to study a cholera epidemic with Roux, Straus and Thuillier; also studies rinderpest.

> 1883-1886
In Alfort, sets up an annex to Pasteur’s laboratory. Develops techniques for the sterile harvesting of blood serum and avian tuberculosis bacillus cultures. Introduces general anesthesia for large animals with chloral hydrate.

> 1886
Elected president of the Central Society of Veterinary Medicine and member of the veterinary section of the French Academy of Medicine.

> 1887-1891
Director of the Veterinary School of Alfort.

> 1887-1890
Isolates the agent responsible for mastitis in cows. Along with Roux, improves the culture of the tuberculosis bacillus; studies anthrax and the vaccination of herbivores against rabies and psittacosis.

> 1888
Member of the first editorial board of the Annales de l’Institut Pasteur. Isolates the agent responsible for bovine farcy.

> 1889
At the first Congress on Tuberculosis, secures the declaration that the disease is contagious and introduces preventive measures.

> 1892-1896
Suggests rules to combat equine glanders that lead to the eradication of the disease in France.

> 1895
Member of the Institut Pasteur board.

> 1898
Discovers the cause of bovine pleuropneumonia: mycoplasma.

> August 2, 1903
Dies in Saint-Maurice.

Photo: Edmond Nocard (1850-1903) ©  Institut Pasteur/Musée Pasteur 

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