Élie Metchnikoff in his laboratory, 1913
Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov
15 May [ O.S. 3 May] 1845
|Died||15 July 1916 71) (aged|
Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov (Russian :Илья Ильич Мечников, also written as Élie Metchnikoff; 15 May [ O.S. 3 May] 1845 –15 July 1916) was a Russian Imperial zoologist of Moldovan-Jewish origin best known for his pioneering research in immunology.
In particular, he is credited with the discovery of phagocytes (macrophages) in 1882. This discovery turned out to be the major defence mechanism in innate immunity.He and Paul Ehrlich were jointly awarded the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "in recognition of their work on immunity". He is also credited by some sources with coining the term gerontology in 1903, for the emerging study of aging and longevity. Supporters of life extension celebrate his birthday as "Metchnikoff Day". He also established the concept of cell-mediated immunity, while Ehrlich established the concept of humoral immunity. Their works are regarded as the foundation of the science of immunology. In immunology, he is given an epithet the "father of natural immunity".
Mechnikov was born in the village Ivanovka, Kharkov Governorate, Russian Empire, now located in the Dvorichna Raion in Ukraine. He was the youngest of five children of Ilya Ivanovich Mechnikov, an officer of the Imperial Guard.His mother, Emilia Lvovna (Nevakhovich), the daughter of the writer Leo Nevakhovich, largely influenced him on his education, especially in science. The family name Mechnikov is a translation from Romanian/Moldavian, since his father was a descendant of the Chancellor Yuri Stefanovich, the grandson of Nicolae Milescu Spataru. The word "mech" is a Russian translation of the Romanian/Moldavian "spadă" (sword), which originated with Spătar. His elder brother Lev became a prominent geographer and sociologist.
He entered Kharkiv Lycée in 1856 where he developed his interest in biology. Convinced by his mother to study natural sciences instead of medicine, in 1862 he tried to study biology at the University of Würzburg, but the German academic session would not start by the end of the year. So he enrolled at Kharkiv University for natural sciences, completing his four-year degree in two years. In 1864 he went to Germany to study marine fauna on the small North Sea island of Heligoland. He was advised by the botanist Ferdinand Cohn to work with Rudolf Leuckart at the University of Giessen. It was in Leuckart's laboratory that he made his first scientific discovery of alternation of generations (sexual and asexual) in nematodes and then at Munich Academy. In 1865, while at Giessen, he discovered intracellular digestion in flatworm, and this study influenced his later works. Moving to Naples the next year he worked on a doctoral thesis on the embryonic development of the cuttle-fish Sepiola and the crustacean Nebalia . A cholera epidemic in the autumn of 1865 made him move to the University of Göttingen, where he worked briefly with W. M. Keferstein and Jakob Henle. In 1867 he returned to Russia to get his doctorate with Alexander Kovalevsky from the University of St. Petersburg. Together they won the Karl Ernst von Baer prize for their theses on the development of germ layers in invertebrate embryos. Mechnikov was appointed docent at the newly established Imperial Novorossiya University (now Odessa University). Only twenty-two years of age, he was younger than his students. After involving in a conflict with senior colleague over attending scientific meeting, in 1868 he transferred to the University of St. Petersburg, where he experienced a worse professional environment. In 1870 he returned to Odessa to take up the appointment of Titular Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy.
In 1882 he resigned from Odessa University due to political turmoils after the assassination of Alexander II. He went to Sicily to set up his private laboratory in Messina. He returned to Odessa as director of an institute set up to carry out Louis Pasteur's vaccine against rabies; due to some difficulties, he left in 1888 and went to Paris to seek Pasteur's advice. Pasteur gave him an appointment at the Pasteur Institute, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Mechnikov became interested in the study of microbes, and especially the immune system. At Messina he discovered phagocytosis after experimenting on the larvae of starfish. In 1882 he first demonstrated the process when he inserted small citrus thorns into starfish larvae, then found unusual cells surrounding the thorns. He realized that in animals which have blood, the white blood cells gather at the site of inflammation, and he hypothesised that this could be the process by which bacteria were attacked and killed by the white blood cells. He discussed his hypothesis with Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Claus, Professor of Zoology at the University of Vienna, who suggested to him the term "phagocyte" for a cell which can surround and kill pathogens. He delivered his findings at Odessa University in 1883.
His theory, that certain white blood cells could engulf and destroy harmful bodies such as bacteria, met with scepticism from leading specialists including Louis Pasteur, Behring and others. At the time, most bacteriologists believed that white blood cells ingested pathogens and then spread them further through the body. His major supporter was Rudolf Virchow, who published his research in his Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medizin (now called the Virchows Archiv ).His discovery of these phagocytes ultimately won him the Nobel Prize in 1908. He worked with Émile Roux on calomel (mercurous chloride) in ointment form in an attempt to prevent people from contracting the sexually transmitted disease syphilis.
In 1887, he observed that leukocytes isolated from the blood of various animals were attracted towards certain bacteria.The first studies of leukocyte killing in the presence of specific antiserum were performed by Joseph Denys and Joseph Leclef, followed by Leon Marchand and Mennes between 1895 and 1898. Almoth E. Wright was the first to quantify this phenomenon and strongly advocated its potential therapeutic importance. The so-called resolution of the humoralist and cellularist positions by showing their respective roles in the setting of enhanced killing in the presence of opsonins was popularized by Wright after 1903, although Metchnikoff acknowledged the stimulatory capacity of immunosentisitized serum on phagotic function in the case of acquired immunity.
This attraction was soon proposed to be due to soluble elements released by the bacteria(see Harris for a review of this area up to 1953). Some 85 years after this seminal observation, laboratory studies showed that these elements were low molecular weight (between 150 and 1500 Dalton (unit)s) N-formylated oligopeptides, including the most prominent member of this group, N-Formylmethionine-leucyl-phenylalanine, that are made by a variety of replicating gram positive bacteria and gram negative bacteria. Mechnikov's early observation, then, was the foundation for studies that defined a critical mechanism by which bacteria attract leukocytes to initiate and direct the innate immune response of acute inflammation to sites of host invasion by pathogens.
Mechnikov also developed a theory that aging is caused by toxic bacteria in the gut and that lactic acid could prolong life. Based on this theory, he drank sour milk every day. He wrote The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies, in which he espoused the potential life-lengthening properties of lactic acid bacteria ( Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus ).He attributed the longevity of Bulgarian peasants to their yogurt consumption.
Mechnikov died in 1916 in Paris from heart failure.According to his will, his body was used for medical research and afterwards cremated in Père Lachaise Cemetery crematorium. His cinerary urn has been placed in the Pasteur Institute library.
Mechnikov was married to his first wife Ludmila Feodorovitch in 1869. She died from tuberculosis on 20 April 1873. Her death, combined with other problems, caused Mechnikov to unsuccessfully attempt suicide, taking a large dose of opium. In 1875, he married his student Olga Belokopytova.In 1885 Olga suffered from severe typhoid and this led to his second suicide attempt. He injected himself with the spirochete of relapsing fever. (Olga died in 1944 in Paris from typhoid.)
Despite being baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, Mechnikov was an atheist.
He was greatly influenced by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. He first read Fritz Müller's Für Darwin (For Darwin) in Giessen. From this he became a supporter of natural selection and Ernst Haeckel's biogenetic law.His scientific works and theories were inspired by Darwinism.
Mechnikov with Alexander Kovalevsky won the Karl Ernst von Baer prize in 1867 based on their doctoral research. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1908 with Paul Ehrlich . He was awarded honorary degree from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK, and the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1906. He was given honorary memberships in the Academy of Medicine in Paris and the Academy of Sciences and Medicine in St. Petersburg.The Leningrad Medical Institute of Hygiene and Sanitation, founded in 1911 was merged with Saint Petersburg State Medical Academy of Postgraduate Studies in 2011 to become the North-Western State Medical University named after I.I. Mechnikov. The Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University is in Odessa, Ukraine.
Metchnikoff wrote notable books such as:
The immune system is a host defense system comprising many biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease. To function properly, an immune system must detect a wide variety of agents, known as pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from the organism's own healthy tissue. In many species, there are two major subsystems of the immune system: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. Both subsystems use humoral immunity and cell-mediated immunity to perform their functions. In humans, the blood–brain barrier, blood–cerebrospinal fluid barrier, and similar fluid–brain barriers separate the peripheral immune system from the neuroimmune system, which protects the brain.
Immunology is a branch of biology that covers the study of immune systems in all organisms. Immunology charts, measures, and contextualizes the physiological functioning of the immune system in states of both health and diseases; malfunctions of the immune system in immunological disorders ; and the physical, chemical, and physiological characteristics of the components of the immune system in vitro, in situ, and in vivo. Immunology has applications in numerous disciplines of medicine, particularly in the fields of organ transplantation, oncology, rheumatology, virology, bacteriology, parasitology, psychiatry, and dermatology.
Paul Ehrlich was a Nobel prize-winning German physician and scientist who worked in the fields of hematology, immunology, and antimicrobial chemotherapy. He is credited with finding a cure for syphilis in 1909. He invented the precursor technique to Gram staining bacteria. The methods he developed for staining tissue made it possible to distinguish between different types of blood cells, which led to the capability to diagnose numerous blood diseases.
Jules Jean Baptiste Vincent Bordet was a Belgian immunologist and microbiologist. The bacterial genus Bordetella is named after him. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to him in 1919 for his discoveries relating to immunity.
Salvador Edward Luria was an Italian microbiologist, later a naturalized U.S. citizen. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969, with Max Delbrück and Alfred Hershey, for their discoveries on the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses. Salvador Luria also showed that bacterial resistance to viruses (phages) is genetically inherited.
Humoral immunity or humoural immunity is the aspect of immunity that is mediated by macromolecules found in extracellular fluids such as secreted antibodies, complement proteins, and certain antimicrobial peptides. Humoral immunity is so named because it involves substances found in the humors, or body fluids. It contrasts with cell-mediated immunity. Its aspects involving antibodies are often called antibody-mediated immunity.
Phagocytes are cells that protect the body by ingesting harmful foreign particles, bacteria, and dead or dying cells. Their name comes from the Greek phagein, "to eat" or "devour", and "-cyte", the suffix in biology denoting "cell", from the Greek kutos, "hollow vessel". They are essential for fighting infections and for subsequent immunity. Phagocytes are important throughout the animal kingdom and are highly developed within vertebrates. One litre of human blood contains about six billion phagocytes. They were discovered in 1882 by Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov while he was studying starfish larvae. Mechnikov was awarded the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery. Phagocytes occur in many species; some amoebae behave like macrophage phagocytes, which suggests that phagocytes appeared early in the evolution of life.
Niels Kaj Jerne, FRS was a Danish immunologist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1984 with Georges J. F. Köhler and César Milstein "for theories concerning the specificity in development and control of the immune system and the discovery of the principle for production of monoclonal antibodies".
The Pasteur Institute is a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines. It is named after Louis Pasteur, who made some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine at the time, including pasteurization and vaccines for anthrax and rabies. The institute was founded on June 4, 1887, and inaugurated on November 14, 1888.
Sir Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine was a bacteriologist from Ukraine in the Russian Empire. He emigrated and worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he developed an anti-cholera vaccine that he tried out successfully in India. He is recognized as the first microbiologist who developed and used vaccines against cholera and bubonic plague. He tested the vaccines on himself. Lord Joseph Lister named him "a saviour of humanity".
Clonal selection theory is a scientific theory in immunology that explains the functions of cells of the immune system (lymphocytes) in response to specific antigens invading the body. The concept was introduced by Australian doctor Frank Macfarlane Burnet in 1957, in an attempt to explain the great diversity of antibodies formed during initiation of the immune response. The theory has become the widely accepted model for how the human immune system responds to infection and how certain types of B and T lymphocytes are selected for destruction of specific antigens.
Timeline of immunology:
Ivan Mikhaylovich Sechenov, was a Russian physiologist. Ivan Pavlov referred to him as the "Father of Russian physiology and scientific psychology". Sechenov is also considered one of the originators of objective psychology.
Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University, located in Odessa, Ukraine, is one of the country's major universities, named after the scientist Élie Metchnikoff, a Nobel prizewinner in 1908. The university was founded in 1865, by an edict of Tsar Alexander II of Russia reorganizing the Richelieu Lyceum of Odessa into the new Imperial Novorossiya University. In the Soviet era, the University was renamed Odessa I. I. Mechnikov State University.
Ralph Marvin Steinman was a Canadian physician and medical researcher at Rockefeller University, who in 1973 discovered and named dendritic cells while working as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Zanvil A. Cohn, also at Rockefeller University. Steinman was one of the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Alfred I. Tauber, is an American philosopher and historian of science, who, from 1993 to 2010, served as Director of the Boston University Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University.
N-Formylmethionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLF) or N-formyl-met-leu-phe) is an N-formylated tripeptide and sometimes simply referred to as chemotactic peptide is a potent polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) chemotactic factor and is also a macrophage activator.
Nikolay Fyodorovich Gamaleya was a Russian and Soviet physician and scientist who played a pioneering role in microbiology and vaccine research.
Alexandre Mikhailovich Besredka was a French biologist and immunologist born in Odessa. In 1910 he became a citizen of France.
The magic bullet is a scientific concept developed by a German Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich in 1900. While working at the Institute of Experimental Therapy, Ehrlich formed an idea that it could be possible to kill specific microbes, which cause diseases in the body, without harming the body itself. He named the hypothetical agent as Zauberkugel, the magic bullet. He envisioned that just like a bullet fired from a gun to hit a specific target, there could be a way to specifically target invading microbes. His continued research to discover the magic bullet resulted in further knowledge of the functions of the body's immune system, and in the development of Salvarsan, the first effective drug for syphilis, in 1909. His works were the foundation of immunology, and for his contributions he shared the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Élie Metchnikoff.
The author cites Metchnikoff's death certificate, according to which he died on July 15, 1916 (the original is in the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Metchnikoff Fund, 584-2-208). Olga Metchnikoff did not provide a precise date for her husband's death in her book, and many sources erroneously cite it as July 16.
There is no clear record that he was professionally restricted in Russia because of his lineage, but he sympathized with the problem his Jewish colleagues suffered owing to Russian anti-Semitism; his personal religious commitment was to atheism, although he received strict Christian religious training at home. Metchnikoff's atheism smacked of religious fervor in the embrace of rationalism and science. We may fairly argue that Metchnikoff's religion was based on the belief that rational scientific discourse was the solution for human suffering.
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