Elie Metchnikoff


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(1845–1916) Russian–French zoologist and cytologist Metchnikoff was born at Ivanovka near Kharkov (now in Ukraine) and educated at Kharkov University. After holding posts under Rudolf Leuckart at Göttingen and Giessen, and under Karl Siebold at Munich, he taught zoology at Odessa and St. Petersburg. From 1873 to 1882 he was professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at Odessa.

He spent the years 1882–86 at Messina in Italy where, working on starfish larvae, he first noticed that certain nondigestive cells enclose and engulf foreign particles introduced into the body. These cells he called phagocytes and, extending his studies, he demonstrated that they also occur in humans – they are the white blood corpuscles. He realized that they are important in the body's defenses against disease, in engulfing bacteria and other foreign bodies in the blood. These advances were outlined in such publications as Intra-Cellular Digestion (1882), The Comparative Pathology of Inflammation (1892), and Immunity in Infectious Diseases (1905). For his work on phagocytosis, Metchnikoff was awarded, in 1908, the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine jointly with Paul Ehrlich.

In 1886 Metchnikoff was appointed director of the new bacteriological institute at Odessa; two years later he went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which he directed from 1895 to 1916, succeeding Pasteur himself.

In 1903 Metchnikoff succeeded, with Emile Roux, in transferring syphilis to apes. He also did research on cholera. His later years were largely concerned with a study of the aging factors in humans and means of inducing longevity – discussed in The Nature of Man (1904) and The Prolongation of Human Life (1910).

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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