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Metchnikoff's Biography

On Longevity, Yogurt

Selected Dates in the Life and Work of Elie Metchnikoff

Born: May 15, 1845, in the Kupiansky uyezd of the Kharkov district, probably in the village of Ivanovka
Died: July 15, 1916, in Paris

1862: Graduated from the 2nd Kharkov Gymnasium with a gold medal

1864: Studied in the Natural Sciences Department of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty, Kharkov University

1864-1867: Scientific research in the universities of Giessen, Goettingen and Munich; collection of research material in Naples and Messina

1867: Awarded a Magister degree (equivalent to a Master of Science) in zoology

1868-1870: Dotsent (equivalent to assistant professor) and later professor of zoology, Imperial St. Petersburg University

1870: Awarded a doctoral degree in zoology

1870-1882: Professor of zoology, Head of the Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, Novorossiya University, Odessa

October 1882-April 1883: Scientific research in Messina, where he performed his famous starfish larvae experiments and began to formulate the phagocyte theory - the first modern theory of immunity

1883: Chaired the Seventh Congress of Russian Naturalists and Physicians, Odessa; delivered a talk, "On the Curative Forces of the Organism," in which he for the first time presented his theory of immunity in public

1883: Elected corresponding member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences

1886-1888: Head of the Odessa Bacteriological Station

October 1888: Emigrated to France

1888-1916: Head of Department (Microbie morphologique), and from 1905, Deputy Director, Pasteur Institute, Paris

1891: Awarded an honoris causa doctoral degree, University of Cambridge

1891: Attended the Seventh International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, London, where he took part in the first ever public debate on immunity

1894: Attended the Eighth International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, Budapest; delivered a talk on immunity and served as Honorary Chairman of one of the congress's sections

1895: Elected to the Royal Society

1896: Named officier of the Legion of Honor by the President of France

1900: Elected to France's Academy of Medicine

1900: Attended the Thirteenth International Medical Congress, Paris; delivered his last major report on immunity studies in his laboratory. See a list of Metchnikoff's publications on immunity

1901: Received the Wilde Medal of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society; delivered a lecture, "The Flora of the Human Body," in which he presented his theory that aging was caused by harmful intestinal microbes. See a list of Metchnikoff's publications on longevity and the intestinal flora

1903-1906: Conducted research on syphilis, developing preventive measures

June 8, 1904: Delivered a lecture, "Old Age," that started a global mania for yogurt

1904: Elected corresponding member of France's Academy of Sciences; in 1912, promoted to associé étranger of the Academy

1906: Received the Copley Medal, the highest distinction of the Royal Society of London

1908: Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (shared with Paul Ehrlich)

1908-1914: Published four scientific papers in the series "Studies of the Intestinal Flora"

1911: Expedition to the Astrakhan steppe to study the plague and tuberculosis among the Kalmyks

1915: Published his last scientific paper, on the death of silkworms

Publications about Metchnikoff

Below are several books, book chapters and articles about Metchnikoff's life and work, in English, available for a free download on the Internet.

Olga Metchnikoff. Life of Elie Metchnikoff. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1921. An adoring biography by Metchnikoff's wife Olga. She started writing it while he was still alive and completed it shortly after his death.

Paul de Kruif. "Metchnikoff:The Nice Phagocytes," pp. 103-116. In his delightful classic, Microbe Hunters, de Kruif devotes a chapter to Metchnikoff, calling him as a "hysterical character out of one of Dostoevski's novels." 

Edwin E. Slosson. Major Prophets of Today. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1916. pp. 147-189. Slosson describes a visit to Metchnikoff's lab at the Pasteur Institute, focusing mainly on Metchnikoff's longevity studies.

The Strand Magazine. "Who Are the Ten Greatest Men Now Alive? A Symposium of Representative Opinions." December 1911, vol. 42, No. 252, pp. 710-17. An opinion poll, in which Metchnikoff was voted one of the "ten," along with, among others, Thomas Edison, Rudyard Kipling and Theodore Roosevelt.

Philip A. Mackowiak. "Recycling Metchnikoff: Probiotics, the Intestinal Microbiome and the Quest for Long Life." Frontiers in Public Health 2013, vol. 1. A paper on the renewed relevance of Metchnikoff's research into gut microbes.