On this day…: 20th February 1901

René Dubos was a French-born American microbiologist who was not only born on this date but died also 81 years later on this date as well. Dubos was well known for his work specifically on isolating antibacterial substances from certain soil microorganisms which led to the discovery of many major antibiotics.

Dubos grew up in a small village in France and attended high school in Paris. He went on to receive his PhD from Rutgers University in 1927 and then began his career in microbiology by joining Oswald Avery’s laboratory, which focused on finding a microbe to breakdown a deadly strain of bacteria pneumonia.

In 1939 Dubos began work at the Rockefeller Institute, where he became a professor, and isolated the antibacterial agents “tyrothricin” and “gramicidin” from the bacterium Bacillus brevis. These antibiotics are still in use today however only for rare cases.His work at Rockefeller did not only cover pneumonia however, but also spanned to tuberculosis, acquired immunity and susceptibility and resistance to infection, all of which were pressing issues of the time.

In 1942 Dubos warned of the problems that could arise with common use of antibiotics and was adamant that bacterial resistance should be expected.For the brief period between 1942-44 Dubos was the George Fayban professor of comparative pathology and tropical medicine at Harvard Medical School, however he chose to return to the Rockefeller Institute For Medical Research (now the Rockefeller University) where he spent the remainder of his scientific career.

“Dubos warned of the problems that could arise with common use of antibiotics and was adamant that bacterial resistance should be expected”

Dubos received multiple prizes throughout his lifetime such as the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the Pulitzer Prize, which he won for his nonfiction book So Human an Animal in 1969. Despite being a microbiologist, Dubos became interested in the other areas of human development such as mental and spiritual development. He had a very humanistic philosophy which was based on his popular maxim of “Think globally, Act locally”.

“Dubos received multiple prizes throughout his lifetime such as the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award”

In his final years he gave up his lab work to devote his time to teaching and writing on behalf of the human environment. Unfortunately Dr. Dubos died in 1982 due to heart failure, however his legacy lives on through the land in North Castle, New York that he purchased to keep in its natural state and the multiple archives he donated to the environmental library of the Pace University. A centre was also founded in his name to help protect various environments.

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