Thursday, 12 June 2008

Scientific Memoirs

This week I finished cataloguing (adding metadata to a database for each page) a series called Scientific Memoirs by Officers of the Medical and Sanitary Departments of the Government of India. This was the first Anglo-Indian publication entirely devoted to biological research. Published in Calcutta from the late 1890's to 1913, there is much pioneering medical work in these volumes.
There is still no vaccine for malaria, but in these memoirs scientist S. R. Christophers, a celebrated and lifelong malariologist, was studying the transmission of malaria (it is now known from Ronald Ross that the Plasmodium parasite was carried in female mosquito saliva and injected into its victim). There are reports of anti-malarial operations at Mian Mir, where standing water, breeding grounds of the Anopheles mosquito, were being destroyed in an attempt to control the disease.

Christophers also worked on kala azar, a deadly disease caused by the parasite Leishmania donovani, which causes fevers, enlargement of the liver and lowers immunity. It is known as Dum Dum Fever or Black Fever and is transmitted via the bite of a female sandfly.

Another microbiologist, W. S. Patton, was sure that the parasite was present in bedbugs and he spent many years studying these insects and his work is also in the Scientific Memoirs. It makes me feel itchy just thinking about his experiments!

Also in the Memoirs is a book by David Semple from 1911 when he developed his Semple rabies vaccine from Pasteur's original. There is work on cholera by D. D. Cunningham who was born in Prestonpans, and plenty of reading about snake venoms and anti-venomous sera, dysentery, typhoid fever and black-water fever.
Click on the image to see David Prain's 1904 drawings of cannabis plants.
What I find fascinating about these volumes is the scientific rigour that was applied to the work and the excitement of new discoveries. These scientists are truly amazing and as Robert S. Desowitz says, "they pursued their microbial quarry with a tenacity that by today's standards of paid-for-by-project research seems almost quixotic." (The Malaria Capers, p.41)

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