Davaine, Casimir Joseph

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Davaine, Casimir Joseph

(b. St.-Amand-les-Eaux, France, 19 March 1812; d. Garches, France, 14 October 1882)

medicine, biology.

Davaine was the sixth child of Benjamin-Joseph Davaine, distiller, and of Catherine Vanautrève. He began his studies at the parochial collège at St. Amand-les Eaus, entered the collège of Tournai (now in Belgium) in 1828, and finished his studies at Lille. At the end of 1830 Davaine started his medical courses in Paris, and in 1834 he competed for a hospital externship. On 1 January 1835 he became extern under Pierre Rayer at La Charité. In December 1837 he presented his doctoral thesis, on the hematocele of the tunica vaginalis, to a committee with Alfred Velpeau as its chairman.

From 1838, Davaine practiced medicine in Paris while carrying on important microbiological, parasitological, pathological, and general biological researches under Rayer. On 23 January 1869 he married an Englishwoman, Maria Georgina Forbes, by whom he had one son, Jules.

Davaine’s most important contribution to science was in medical microbiology. As early as 1850 he and Rayer observed small rods, which he later called bactéridies, in the blood of a sheep suffering from anthrax. He did not immediately understand the significance of this observation; but from 1863 on, under the influence of Pasteur’s work on butyric fermentation, he demonstrated in a series of publications remarkable for their logic and method that the bactéridie (Bacillus anthracis) is the sole cause of anthrax. Among his findings were the following:

(1) Rabbits and guinea pigs inoculated with blood taken from an animal infected with anthrax always show great numbers of bacilli in their blood, which can be used to inoculate, and thus infect, other animals.

(2) Blood containing anthrax bacilli, when putrefied or heated, no longer transmits the disease because the bacilli have been killed; the same blood, when simply dried, remains infectious.

(3) When the dried blood is mixed with water, the bacilli fall to the bottom of the container. A drop taken from the surface of the liquid will not transmit the disease, but one taken from the bottom of the container will infect the experimental subject.

(4) The blood of a fetus in a female guinea pig suffering from anthrax is not infectious, because the placenta acts as a filter.

(5) The infective power of blood containing anthrax bacilli is very great: a millionth of a drop can still kill a guinea pig.

(6) The period of incubation for the disease corresponds to the time necessary for the bacteria to multiply.

(7) Birds are resistant to anthrax.

(8) Certain types of stinging insects (Diptera) contribute to spreading the disease.

(9) The “malignant pustule” that afflicts man is of anthracic origin, for it contains the same bacteria. Davaine was able to reproduce it experimentally in guinea pigs.

(10) Various chemical substances, such as iodine, can cure anthrax by destroying the bacilli.

(11) Crushed leaves of the walnut (Juglans regia) have an antibacterial action. (Today it is known that this plant contains a potent antibiotic substance against the anthrax bacillus.)

During his research on anthrax Davaine distinguished another disease, bovine septicemia, but did not isolate the microbe (1865). In 1869 he stated that (1) the microbes of septicemia are motile, while anthrax bacilli are not; (2) putrefied septicemic blood is no longer virulent, while anthracic blood always is, (3) in septicemia there is neither agglutination of the red blood corpuscles nor any splenomegaly, while anthrax always produces such symptoms.

For all his experimental inoculations Davaine used the recently invented Pravaz syringe rather than the lancet, which presented many inconveniences.

Davaine’s contributions to medical and veterinary microbiology were fundamental, for he was the first to recognize the pathogenic role of bacteria. He was not able, however, to elucidate the exact mode of transmission of anthrax because he was unaware that the bacillus had a resistant stage, the spore, that enabled it to survive and to recur in a contaminated region. This stage of the bacillus was described in 1876 by Robert Koch; and later (1877–1881) Pasteur, Émile Roux, and Chamberland definitively proved the role of the bacillus in the etiology of anthrax. Davaine, however, was one of the first medical microbiologists to recognize the role of the bacillus and to differentiate it from bovine septicemia.

Davaine’s many disputes at the Paris Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Medicine with the enemies of the germ theory of disease—Leplat, Jaillard, Henri Bouley, André Sanson, Louis Béhier, Alfred Vulpian, and particularly Gabriel Colin—foreshadowed Pasteur’s conflicts a few years later. As a matter of fact, Pasteur had a high opinion of Davaine’s work and wrote in 1879: “I congratulate myself on having often carried on your clever researches.”

Davaine’s other scientific contributions had to do with internal parasites of man and domestic animals. His important work on this subject, Traité des entozoaires, ran to two editions. As early as 1857 Davaine thought of tracking down intestinal worms by seeking their eggs in the stools, a procedure still followed. Experimentally he specified the mode of development of the Ascaridae (Ascaris lumbricoides) and of the Trichocephalus (Trichuris trichiura).

Among plant parasites Davaine studied, from 1854 to 1856, the cycle of the wheat worm (Anguina tritici) and suggested means of combating this nematode. He was also interested in the mold that causes fruit rot (1866). Thus, he should be considered a pioneer in the study of plant pathology.

Davaine also studied the amoebic movements of the leukocytes, which he noticed as early as 1850. In 1869 he demonstrated that these cells can absorb foreign bodies introduced into the blood and thus observed phagocytosis fourteen years before Élie Metchnikoff did (1883). He was the first to recognize (1852) the protandrous hermaphroditism of oysters. Several of his observations of animal teratology were written up in his “Mémoire sur les anomalies de l’oeuf (1860) and in his article “Monstres, Monstruosités” (1875) for the Dictionnaire Dechambre. Davaine’s interests further extended to anabiosis among such invertebrates as Protozoa, Nematoda, and Tardigrada (1856); the palatine organ of the Cyprinidae (1850); the thyrohyoid bone of the anoura (1849); and the color mechanism of the tree frog (1849).

In medicine, besides his publications on anthrax and septicemia, Davaine made numerous contributions—some in collaboration with Claude Bernard, Pierre Rayer, or A. Laboulbène—on anatomicpathological lesions observed in various animals. He also published the important “Mémoire sur la paralysie générale ou partielle des deux nerfs de la septième paire” (1852).

All this research was carried on while Davaine practiced medicine, for he never had a laboratory of his own nor held an official university position. Noted for his humility and modesty, he did not seek honors; the only two he received were the cross of a chevalier of the Legion of Honor (1858) and membership in the Academy of Medicine (1868). Under the Second Empire he also was made a Médicin par quartier de l’Empereur, a purely honorary title.

During the Franco-Prussian War, while serving in the ambulance corps, Davaine wrote a short philosophical book, Les éléments du bonheur (1871). This book summed up in a rather simplistic fashion his inner serenity and his faith in man. His last years were spent at Garches, where his property is now the Fondation Davaine.


I. Original Works. Davaine’s writings include “Recherches sur les globules blancs du sang,” in Comptes rendus des séances de la Société de biologie, 2 (1850), 103–105; “Mémoire sur la paralysie générale ou partielle des deux nerfs de la septième paire,” in Mémoires de laSociété de biologie.4 (1852), 137–191; “Recherches sur la génération des huîtres,” ibid., 297–339; “Recherches sur I’anguillule du blé niellé considérée au point de vue de I’histoire naturelle et de I’agriculture,” ibid., 2nd ser., 3 , (1856), 201–271; “Sur le diagnostic de la présence des vers dans I’intestin par I’inspection microscopique des matières expulsées,” in Comptes rendus des séances de la Société de biologie, 2nd ser., 4 (1857), 188–189; Traité des entozoaires et des maladies vermineuses de I’homme et des animaux domestiques (Paris, 1860; 2nd ed., enl., 1877), part repr., ed. by W. A. Smith as On Human Entozoa (London, 1863); “Mémoire sur les anomalies de I’oeuf, “in Mémoires de la Société de bilogie, 3rd ser., 2 (1860), 183–263; “Nouvelles recherches sur le développement et la propagation de I’ascaride lombricoïde et du trichocéphale de I’homme,” ibidi., 4 (1862), 261–265; “Recherches sur les infusoires du sang dans la maladie connue sous le nom de sang de rate,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de I’Académie des sciences57 (1863), 220–223; “Nouvelles recherches sur les infusoires du sang dans la maladie connue sous le nom de sang de rate,” ibid., 351–353, 386–387, and in Comptes rendus des séances de la Société de biologie, 3rd ser., 5 (1863), 149–152; “Nouvelles recherches sur la maladie du sang de rate considérée au point de vue de sa nature,” in Mémoires de la Société de biologie, 3rd ser., 5 (1863), 193–202; “Nouvelles recherches sur la nature de la, maladie charbonneuse connue sous le nom de sang de rate,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de I’Académie de sciences, 59 (1864), 393–396; “Sur la présence de bactéridies dans la pustule maligne chez I’homme,” ibid., 429–431, written with Raimbert; “Recherches sur les vibrioniens,” ibid., 629–633; “Recherches sur la nature et la constitution anatomique de la pustule maligne,” ibid., 60 (1865), 1296–1299; “Sur la pré sence constante des bactéridies dans les animaux infectés par la maladie charbonneuse,” ibid., 61 (1865), 334–335; “Recherches sur une maladie septique de la vache regardée comme de nature charbonneuse,” ibid., 368–370; “Recherches physiologiques et pathologiques sur les bactéries,” ibid., 66 (1868), 499–503; “Sur la nauture des maladies charbonneuses,” in Archives générales de médecine, 17 (1868), 144–148; “Rapport sur des recherches de M. Raimbert relatives à la constitution et au diagnostic de la pustule maligne,” in Bulletin de I’Académie de médecine, 33 (1868), 703–709; “Reproduction expérimentale de la pustule maligne chez les animaux,” ibid., 721–722; “Expériences relatives à la durée de I’incubation des maladies charbonneuses et à la quantité de virus nécessaire à la transmission de la maladie,” ibid., 816–821; “bactérie, bactéridie,” in Dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences médicales, VIII (1868), 13–39; “Études sur la contagion du charbon chez les animaux domestiques,” in Bulletin de I’Académie de médecine, 35 (1870), 215–235; “Études sur la genèse et la propagation du charbon,” ibid., 471–498; Les éléments du bonheur (Paris, 1871); “Recherches sur quelques questions relatives à la septicémie,” in Bulletin de I’Académie de médecine, 2nd ser., 1 (1872), 907–920, 976–996, 1001–1008, 1095–1105, 1234–1237; “Recherches sur la nature de I, empoisonnement par la saumure,” ibid., 1051–1058; “Cas de mort d’une vache par septicémie,” ibid., 1058–1062; “Suite des recherches sur quelques questions relatives à la septicémie: La septicémie chez I’homme—recherches expérimentales sur la nature de la fiévre typhoïde,” ibid., 2 (1873), 124–144; 487–507; “Rapport sur un mémoire de M. Onimus, relatif à I’influence qu’exercent les organismes inférieurs développés pendant la putré faction sur I’empisonnement putride des animaux,” ibid., 464–477; “Recherches relatives à I’action de la chaleur sur le virus charbonneux,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de I’Académie des sciences, 77 (1873), 726–729; “Recherches relatives à I’action des substances dites antiseptiques sur le virus charbonneux,” ibid., 821–825; “Réponse à M. Colin sur ses communications relatives à la septiceémie,” in Bulletin de I’Académie de médecine, 2nd ser., 2 (1873), 1272–1281; “Recherches relatives à I’action des substances antiseptiques sur le virus de la septicémie,” in Comptes rendus des séances de la Société de biologie, 6th ser., 1 (1874), 25–27; “Recherches sur quelques conditions qui favorisent ou qui empèchent le développement de la septicémie,” in Bulletin deI’Académie de médecine, 2nd ser., 8 (1879), 121–138; and “Recherches sur le traitement des maladies charbonneuses chez I’homme,” ibid., 9 (1880), 757–781.

Posthumous publications are “Parasites, parasitisme, “in Dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences medicales, 2nd ser., XXI (1885), 66–116, completed by Laboulbéne; and A. Davaine, ed., L’oeuvre de C. J. Davaine (Paris, 1889).

II. Secondary Literature. On Davaine or his work, see P. Huard and J. Théodoridès, “Comment vivait Casimir-Joseph Davaine (1812–1882),” in Clio-Medica, 2 (1967), 254–258; A. Laboulbène, Notice sur C. J. Davaine (Paris, 1884); and J. Théodoridès, “Une amitié de savants, Claude Bernard et Davaine,” in Histoire de la médecine, 6 (1956), 35–45; “Un centenaire en parasitologie: Davaine et le diagnostic des helminthiases par I’examen microscopique des selles (1857),” in Presse médicale, 65 (1957), 2124; “Casimir Davaine et les débuts de la bactériologie médicale,” in Conférences du palais de la Découverte, D95 (Paris, 1964); “Les domiciles parisiens du Docteur Davaine,” in Histoire de la médecine, spec. no. 4 (1964), 136–147; “Casimir Davaine (1812–1882): A Precursor of Pasteur,” in Medical History, 10 (1966), 155–165; “and Un grand médecin et biologiste, Casimir-Joseph Davaine (1812–1882),” which constitutes the entirety of Analecta Medico-historica, 4 (1968).

Jean ThÉodoridÈs

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