Alexandre Yersin (1863-1943)
Swiss-born French physician and bacteriologist, born on Sept. 22, 1863 in Lavaux (Canton of Vaud, Switzerland). His father was an intendant charged with the powder in Romandy ; he died two weeks before the birth of his son Alexandre. His mother moved to Morges (Switzerland), where she created an institution for young girls and brought up her three children by herself (Emilie, Franck and Alexandre).
1883-1884 High school studies then enrollment in medical training at the School of Medicine in Lausanne (Switzerland), then in Marburg (Germany).
1885-1886 Attended the School of Medicine in Paris, where he worked in professor A.V. Cornil's laboratory at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Entered Louis Pasteur's laboratory at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, by invitation of Emile Roux, and participated in the development in the anti-rabies serum.
1887 Became a non-resident medical student in the Paris hospitals. Entered professor J.J. Grancher's service at the children's hospital (Enfants Malades).
1888 Thesis defense for medical doctorate on : "Etude sur le développement du tubercule expérimental", which won him the bronze medal from the School of Medicine in Paris. Traveled to Berlin (Germany) to continue his bacteriological studies, under Robert Koch (from May to June).
1889 At the recently created Institut Pasteur in Paris, was engaged by E. Roux to prepare and teach a course in microbiology (first Cours de microbiologie) ; as a collaborator of E. Roux, commenced research on the toxic properties of the diphteria bacillus and discovered the diphteric toxin : their work was published in the Annales de l'Institut Pasteur. Became a French citizen.
1890 Left for French Indochina in Southeast Asia as a ship's physician to the "Messageries Maritimes" company, in the Saigon-Manila line.
1891 Embarked as a physician on a steamer bound for Saigon and Haiphong. On December, obtained leave from the "Messageries Maritimes" company and explored Indochina. Met A. Calmette in Saigon.
1892-1894 During three expeditions into the Moïs mountains, discovered the high plateau of Lang-Bian, where he recommended that a town, the future Dalat, be built.
1894 By request of the French government and the Institut Pasteur, he was sent to Hong-Kong to conduct research on bubonic plague (or pest) epidemic that was sweeping through China ; isolated the plague bacillus which causes the disease, on June 20 ; demonstrated for the first time that the same bacillus was present in the rodent as well as in the human disease, thus underlining the possible mean of transmission ; this important discovery was communicated to the French Academy of Sciences, by his colleague Emile Duclaux, in a paper titled La peste bubonique de Hong-Kong.
1895 Was sent to the small island of Nossi-be, next to Madagascar where he carried out post-mortem in cases of death caused by the haematuric bilious fever. Returned to the Institut Pasteur in Paris ; continued research on the plague bacillus and the development of an anti-plague serum, in collaboration with A. Borrel and A. Calmette, in E. Roux's laboratory. Traveled to Indochina where he established a small laboratory in Nha Trang, for studying cattle diseases ; this laboratory was to become a branch of the Institut Pasteur in 1905.
1896 Traveled to China and tried the anti-plague serum received from Paris, in Canton and Amoy, but with disappointing results. Extended the laboratory in Nha Trang with additional buildings and obtained a concession to establish an agricultural station in Suoi Giao.
1897 Traveled to Bombay (India) to cope with an outbreak of plague, provided with great amounts of the anti-pest serum, with disappointing results. The vaccine used by W. Haffkine was not efficient either. P.-L. Simond, sent by the Institut Pasteur, replaced him.
1899 Introduced the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) in Indochina. The first crop of rubber latex were bought by the "Michelin" company in 1904.
1902-1904 With the assistance of Indochina's governor general P. Doumer, founded a medical school at Hanoi and was its first director until 1904.
1904 As a delegate of the Paris Institut Pasteur, he was nominated director of the Pasteur Institutes in both Saigon and Nha Trang.
1905 On Feb. 6, his mother died, with whom he corresponded regularly. From then on, he wrote his numerous letters to his sister.
1908 On the roof of his house in Nha Trang, built a dome shelter for a refracting telescope and a prismatic astrolabe.
1909 Became a member of the French Society of Exotic Pathology (Société de Pathologie Exotique, SPE).
1915 Opened a new agricultural station in Hon Ba. Tried to acclimatize the quinine tree (Cinchona ledgeriana) which produced the first known effective remedy for preventing and treating malaria (that prevails in Southeast Asia to this day).
1916 Elected corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences (section of medicine and surgery) ; obtained the Lecomte prize from the Academy (1927).
1924 Became honorary inspector general responsible for the Indochina's Pasteur Institutes, while N. Bernard became director of these Pasteur Institutes.
1934 When A. Calmette and E. Roux died, the Institut Pasteur's board of directors established the scientific advisory board to which A. Yersin belonged, along with : G. Bertrand, J. Bordet, A. Borrel, F. Mesnil, Ch. Nicolle.
Nominated honorary director of the Institut Pasteur in Paris and as such, became president of the general assembly.
1943 On Feb. 28, died at his home in Nha Trang.
Collaborators : A. Borrel, L. Bréaudat, A. Calmette, C. Carré, Fraimbault, A. Lambert, Lalung-Bonnaire, E. Roux, P.-L. Simond, A. Vassal.
Biographical reference tools :
- Mollaret (Henri), Brossolet (Jacqueline), "Yersin un pasteurien en Indochine", Un savant une époque, Paris, Belin, 1993, 379 p.
Service des Archives de l'Institut Pasteur