Queen Victoria's doctor beats Pasteur to the germ theory

New research from the University of Sheffield has questioned the long-held believe that Louis Pasteur was the first scientist to realise that diseases were not caused by bad air or 'miasma'. The research by Dr Milton Wainwright of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University has shown that well before Pasteur's work, a number of scientists recognised that diseases are actually caused by living agents.

The research, which has been published in this month's issue of Microbiology Today, looks at the work of two English scientists, Gideon Algernon Mantle and Sir Henry Holland. Working in the 1840s both scientists concluded that, rather than bad air, so-called "animalcules" or microscopic organisms were the true cause of disease. They recognised that these organisms could infect humans and cause specific diseases, long before the germ theory became established after Pasteur's work.

Sir Henry Holland had influential standing as Queen Victoria's doctor and was a famous explorer and a cousin and friend of Charles Darwin. He was also present at the deathbed of Prince Albert.

Dr Wainwright said: "It is strange that the germ theory did not catch on during the 1840s, when it was promoted by men of the scientific quality of Mantell and Holland, especially considering the latter's influential standing. Clearly, Pasteur's significant contribution was in to systematically use experiments to prove the truth of these earlier theories".

Notes for Editors: The latest findings add to Dr Wainwright's earlier research which showed that the Scottish surgeon, Sir John Goodsir concluded that an infective agent caused a stomach infection in the 1830s. Dr Wainwright has also previously shown that scientists were aware of the need for hand washing to prevent infection long before Semmelweis (who is usually credited with the finding) did his work.

For further information please contact: Lindsey Bird, Media Relations Officer on 0114 2225338 or email l.bird@sheffield.ac.uk