Story of the Institut Pasteur  

The Institut Pasteur is named after its world-renowned founder and owes much to the great genius of science. Yet its story is also linked to the lives and discoveries of many other scientists. So many people have stayed true to the humanist ideals of Louis Pasteur and so many scientific breakthroughs today benefit people’s health worldwide.


The Institut Pasteur is a private, non-profit foundation with officially recognized charitable status, just as Louis Pasteur himself had wanted.


Established by decree on June 4, 1887, the Institut Pasteur was opened on November 14, 1888 thanks to Louis Pasteur’s international appeal for funds. He now had the facilities to extend vaccination against rabies, continue research on infectious diseases and share the resulting knowledge.


At the outset, Louis Pasteur appointed scientists from a wide range of backgrounds. The first five departments were led by two graduates of the prestigious Ecole Normale :


  • Emile Duclaux for General Microbiology,
  • and Charles Chamberland for Microbiology applied to hygiene,
  • Ilya Mechnikov, a biologist, was in charge of Morphological microbiology,
  • Dr. Joseph Grancher led the Rabies department,
  • Dr Emile Roux was head of Technical microbiology.

A year after the Institut Pasteur opened, Dr. Roux introduced the world’s first ever microbiology course, "Technical Microbiology".


Story of the Institut Pasteur


A global mission

Early on, Louis Pasteur’s close fellow scientists such as Alexandre Yersin and Albert Calmette, later known as his "lieutenants", spread their discoveries throughout the world. They shared developments including vaccination against rabies, anti-diphtheria serum therapy, and vaccination against smallpox based on Jenner’s principle. They studied the characteristics of exotic diseases and how to treat them.


And so, alongside the Institut Pasteur in Paris, there emerged the Institut Pasteur International Network and associated institutes. The network now has 32 institutes on every continent worldwide.


Today the Institut Pasteur is recognized as a birthplace of microbiology, immunology and molecular biology.


From the very start, Institut Pasteur scientists took a leading role in enhancing the world’s knowledge of the structures and functions of living organisms, infectious agents and the diseases they cause. Their research particularly focused on rabies, plague, diphtheria, tetanus, typhus, yellow fever, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, as well as hepatitis B and AIDS.


Some scientists were behind the discovery of toxoids, BCG, sulfonamides and antihistamines. Others played a key role in the emergence of molecular biology, neuroscience and genetic engineering.


Ten Institut Pasteur scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries and research.


Quelques découvertes des chercheurs de l'Institut Pasteur

  • 1885 Development of rabies vaccine

    By Louis Pasteur


    First human rabies vaccination : July 6, 1885


  • 1888 Identification of the mode of action of the diphtheria bacillus

    Emile Roux and Alexandre Yersin

  • 1889 Work on inflammation and immunity

    Elie Metchnikoff

  • 1894 Yersinia pestis

    Discovery of Yersinia pestis, the pathogen that causes bubonic plague, by Alexandre Yersin.

  • 1894 Identification of the plague bacillus

    Alexandre Yersin

  • 1894 Development of treatment of diphtheria… serum therapy.

    Emile Roux, Louis Martin and Auguste Chaillou

  • 1896 Identification of the mechanisms of the immune system...

    ... notably the involvement of antibodies and the role of the complement system

    Jules Bordet


  • 1898 Role of fleas in the transmission of plague

    Paul-Louis Simond

  • 1898 Role of fleas in the transmission of plague

    Paul-Louis Simond

  • 1904 First anti-infectious chemotherapy trials

    At the Institut Pasteur and Pasteur Hospital

  • 1907 Role of protozoan blood parasites

    Alphonse Laveran awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on the role of protozoan blood parasites in certain diseases, notably malaria, in collaboration with Félix Mesnil.

    Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran (1845-1922), a French military doctor and parasitologist who pioneered tropical medicine, is known for discovering the protozoan parasite that causes malaria in 1880. The role of protozoa in causing disease was identified for the first time. His work on protozoa won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1907.

  • 1909 Role of lice in the transmission of typhus

    Charles Nicolle

  • 1910 Demonstration of poliomyelitis being caused by a filterable virus

    Constantin Levaditi, together with another Institut Pasteur scientist Amédée Borrel, who advanced the theory that some cancers were caused by viruses, can be considered one of the pioneers of virology.

    Constantin Levaditi and Karl Landsteiner

  • 1917 Discovery of bacteriophages

    Bacteriophages are viruses that only replicate in bacteria.

    Félix d’Hérelle

  • 1921 Development of BCG

    Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin

  • 1922 Discovery of toxoids...

    ...the principle of combination vaccinations and the role of adjuvant substances of immunity

    Gaston Ramon

  • 1932 Development of yellow fever vaccine

    at the Institut Pasteur in Dakar

    Jean Laigret

  • 1932 Discovery of the modes of action of growth factors

    André Lwoff

  • 1936 Discovery of the anti-infectious action of sulfonamides

    Jacques et Thérèse Tréfouël, Frédérico Nitti

  • 1937 Discoveries relating to antihistamines and curare-like agents

    Daniel Bovet

  • 1939 Discovery of the anti-infectious action of sulfones

    Dapsone, or sulfone-mother, was the first treatment for leprosy.

    Jacques et Thérèse Tréfouël, Noël Rist, Hervé Floch

  • 1954 Development of poliomyelitis vaccine

    Pierre Lépine

  • 1955 Work on enzymatic adaptation and enzyme-induced biosynthesis

    Jacques Monod

  • 1960 Protein biosynthesis

    Work on the processes of enzyme biosynthesis or activity regulation and the mechanisms of protein biosynthesis by Jacques Monod and François Jacob.

  • 1970 Isolation of the first neurotransmitter receptor...

    ...the acetylcholine receptor. Acetylcholine is a chemical messenger that transmits nerve impulses between nerve cells in the brain and between nerve cells and muscle fibers

    Jean-Pierre Changeux

  • 1983 Discovery of the AIDS viruses, HIV1 and HIV2

    Luc Montagnier, Jean-Claude Chermann, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and al.

  • 1985 Development of hepatitis B vaccine

    The hepatitis B vaccine was the first human vaccine obtained by genetic engineering from animal cells.

    Pierre Tiollais and al.

  • 1989 Development of a rapid diagnostic test for tuberculosis

    Brigitte Gicquel and al.

  • 1991 Development of Shigella vaccine

    Philippe Sansonetti and al.

  • 1991 Development of a rapid diagnostic test for Helicobacter pylori bacteria

    Helicobacter pylori bacteria are responsible for stomach ulcers and cancer

    Agnès Labigne and al.

  • 1992 Development of genetic testing for lesions with precancerous potential

    This test can improve prevention of cervical cancer.

    Gérard Orth and al.

  • 1993 Development of rapid tests for detecting antibiotic resistance

    ... of the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis

    Stewart Cole and al.

  • 1995 Vaccine against Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium responsible for stomach ulcers and cancer, is effective in animals.

    Agnès Labigne and al.

  • 1995 Identification of genes responsible for deafness

    Christine Petit and al.

  • 1996 Identification of the mechanisms used by the Listeria bacterium...

    ... to enter cells

    Pascale Cossart and al.

  • 1996 Characterization of a molecule (chemokine) able to inhibit lymphocyte infection by HIV

    Jean-Louis Virelizier and al.

  • 1996 Full sequencing of the genome of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae

    Bemard Dujon and al.

    European program.


  • 1997 Discovery of a nicotine dependence gene

    Jean-Pierre Changeux and al.

  • 1997 Development of a 2-hour Escherichia coli detection assay

    (instead of the 2-3 days usually required), improving recreational, tap and drinking water monitoring reliability.

    Patrick Grimont and al.

  • 1997 Development of a DNA analysis technique, "molecular combing"

    This should lead to major breakthroughs in the fields of genetic diagnostics and human genome mapping.

    Aaron Bensimon and al.

  • 1997 Full sequencing of the Bacillus subtilis genome

    Franck Kunst, Antoine Danchin, Georges Rappoport and al.

  • 1998 Full sequencing of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome

    Stewart Cole and al.

  • 1998 First isolation of a virulence gene in Mycobacterium tuberculosis

    Brigitte Gicquel and al.

  • 1998 First discovery of a gene predisposing to papillomavirus infection in humans

    Investigation of a potential link with psoriasis

    Gérard Orth and al.

  • 1999 Identification of a type of nicotine receptor...

    ...required for the analgesic action of nicotine

    Jean-Pierre Changeux and al.

  • 2000 Identification of a mechanism of virulence gene diversity in Plasmodium...

    ... the malaria agent

    Artur Scherf and al.

  • 2006 Identification of the source of the Chikungunya epidemic...

    ... in the Indian Ocean based on sequencing of the genomes of viral strains.

    Sylvain Brisse, Isabelle Schuffenecker and al.

  • 2007 Explanation of the mechanism whereby the immune system...

    ... of HIV controllers who do not develop the disease, manages to control the AIDS virus.

    Gianfranco Pancino and al.

  • 2012 Muscle stem cells survive 17 days post mortem

    This discovery could be the basis of a new source, and more importantly new methods of conservation, for stem cells used to treat a number of pathologies.


    This is the case for leukemia, for example, which requires a bone marrow transplant to restore a patient's blood and immune cells destroyed by chemotherapy and radiation.


    By harvesting consenting donors’ stem cells from bone marrow postmortem, doctors could make up for shortages of tissues and cells. Although highly promising, this approach in the realm of cellular therapy still requires more testing and confirmation before it can be used in clinical applications.

Updated on 13/02/2014


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