|Born||October 16, 1816
Bassing, Moselle, France
|Died||April 15, 1908 (aged 91)
Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp (October 16, 1816 – April 15, 1908) was a French scientist now best known for breakthroughs in applied organic chemistry and for a bitter rivalry with Louis Pasteur. Béchamp developed the Béchamp reduction, an inexpensive method to produce aniline dye, permitting Perkin to launch the synthetic-dye industry. Béchamp also synthesized the first organic arsenical drug, arsanilic acid, which Ehrlich later synthesized the first chemotherapeutic drug from. Béchamp’s rivalry with Pasteur was initially for priority in attributing fermentation to microorganisms, later for attributing the silkworm disease pebrine to microorganisms, and eventually over the validity of germ theory. Béchamp also disputed cell theory.
Claiming discovery that the “molecular granulations” in biological fluids were actually the elementary units of life, Béchamp named them microzymas—that is, “tiny enzymes”—and credited them with producing both enzymes and cells while “evolving” amid favorable conditions into multicellular organisms. Denying that bacteria could invade a healthy animal and cause disease, Béchamp claimed instead that unfavorable host and environmental conditions destabilize the host’s native microzymas, whereupon they decompose host tissue by producing pathogenic bacteria. While cell theory and germ theory gained widespread acceptance, granular theories became obscure. Béchamp’s version, microzymian theory, has been retained by small groups, especially in alternative medicine.
Life and career
Béchamp was born in Bassing, France in 1816, the son of a miller. He lived in Bucharest, Romania from the ages of 7 to 18 with an uncle who worked in the French ambassador’s office. He was educated at the University of Strasbourg, receiving a doctor of science degree in 1853 and doctor of medicine in 1856, and ran a pharmacy in the city. In 1854 was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, a post previously held by Louis Pasteur.
In 1856, after receiving his medical degree, Béchamp took a position at the University of Montpellier, where he remained until 1876 when he was appointed Dean of the Catholic Faculty of Medicine at Université Lille Nord de France. Béchamp’s time in Lille was stormy, as his dispute with Pasteur led to efforts to have his work placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the index of books prohibited by the Catholic Church). Béchamp retired under this cloud in 1886, briefly ran a pharmacy with his son, and ultimately moved to Paris, where he was given a small laboratory at the Sorbonne. He died at the age of 91, his work having faded into scientific obscurity and Pasteur’s version of germ theory dominant. A brief obituary in the British Medical Journal noted that Béchamp’s name was “associated with bygone controversies as to priority which it would be unprofitable to recall.”
In the modern day, Béchamp’s work continues to be promoted by a small group of alternative medicine proponents (also known as germ theory denialists), including advocates of alternative theories of cancer, who dismiss Pasteur’s germ theory and argue that Béchamp’s ideas were unjustly ignored. They accuse Pasteur of plagiarising and then suppressing Béchamp’s work, citing work such as Ethel Douglas Hume’s Béchamp or Pasteur: A Lost Chapter in the History of Biology from the 1920s.
- Manchester KL (June 2001). “Antoine Béchamp: pere de la biologie. Oui ou non?”. Endeavour. 25 (2): 68–73. doi:10.1016/S0160-9327(00)01361-2. PMID 11484677.
- Manchester KL (2007). “Louis Pasteur, fermentation, and a rival”. South African Journal of Science. 103 (9–10). ISSN 0038-2353.
- “Obituary: Professor Bechamp”. British Medical Journal. 1 (2471): 1150. 1908. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.2471.1150-b. PMC .
- Hess, David J. (1997). Can bacteria cause cancer?: alternative medicine confronts big science. NYU Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-8147-3561-4.
- Béchamp Synthesis of para-substituted arylarsenous acids and transformation of nitro aromatics into amino aromatics.
- Buiuc, D.; Pânzaru, C. (2008). “Antoine Béchamp and Victor Cornil Memento for Romanian pharmacy, chemistry and medicine”. Revista medico-chirurgicala a Societatii de Medici si Naturalisti din Iasi (in Romanian). 112 (2): 560–566. PMID 19295038.