Prowazek (Provázek), Stanislaus Von Lanov

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(b. Jindřichův Hradec, Bohemia, 12 November 1875; d. Cottbus, Germany, 17 February 1915)

microbiology, parasitology.

Prowazek was descended from Czech peasant stock. His father, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, was ennobled in 1893; at about the same time Prowazek, then a student in the Plzeň Gymnasium, altered the spelling of his name from the original “Provézek.” In 1895 Prowazek began to study natural science at the University in Prague, where he came under the influence of the zoologist Berthold Hatschek and of the physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach. After two years’ study, he followed Hatschek to the University of Vienna, from which he received the Ph.D. in 1899, with a dissertation entitled Protozoen Stiulien. He continued his zoological work with Hatschek both in Vienna and at the zoological station in Trieste until 1901, when he went to Paul Ehrlich’s Institute for Experimental Therapy at Frankfurt. The following year Prowazek worked in Richard Hertwig’s department at Munich, where he continued his earlier cytological investigations of flagellates and investigated the reproductive modes of infusorians. In 1903 he accepted an invitation from Fritz Schaudinn, whom he had met in Trieste in 1901, to work as his assistant at the zoological section of the University of Berlin at Rovigno.

The friendship between Prowazek and Schaudinn was decisive in both their careers, and the brief time in which they worked together—less than two years— was of considerable importance to the development of protistology. In 1905 Schaudinn—following his discovery, with Hoffmann, of the spirochete that causes syphilis—was appointed director of the zoological section of the Institut für Schiffs- und Tropenkrankheiten in Hamburg; upon his premature death the following year (at the age of thirty-five), Prowazek was named his successor.

Prowazek had taken part in Neisser’s 1906 expedition to Java; at Batavia he and Ludwig Halber-stadter discovered the inclusions in the epithelial cells from the conjunctivas of trachomatous eyes that are now called Prowazek’s bodies or Halberstädter-Prowazek bodies. At the same time, he began his studies of vaccinia. After a short visit to Japan, Prowazek returned to Hamburg, from which he made several other research expeditions. In 1908 he went to Rio de Janiero to study the etiology of vaccinia and variola at the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz; two years later he visited the German colonies of Western Samoa, Yap, and Saipan to explore the causes of a number of infectious diseases, among them trachoma, fowl pox, Newcastle disease, silkworm jaundice, epitheliosis desquamativa, conjunctivae, and molluscum contagiosum.

In 1913 and 1914 Prowazek traveled to Serbia and Constantinople, where typhus was raging. He made observations on the etiology, mode of transmission, and life cycle of the parasite causing the disease, and devoted the last two years of his life to studying it. He himself died of typhus when, in 1915, he and Henrique da Rocha-Lima were sent to investigate an epidemic that had broken out among Russian prisoners confined in a camp near Cottbus. Da Rocha-Lima contracted the disease at the same time, but recovered to isolate the causative microorganism, which he called Rickettsia prowazekii in honor of both Prowazek and H. T. Ricketts, who had also died of typhus while investigating it.

During his rather brief scientific career, Prowazek dealt with a wide variety of topics, including the origin of the axial filament of flagella, merotomy, and the mode of transmission of microbial diseases. He was the first to demonstrate that the parasite Trypanosoma lewisi passes through a special stage in the body of its host, the rat louse. He made a number of transplantation experiments on protista, and contributed widely to protistology and to its medical applications. Although he lacked formal medical education, Prowazek had a considerable grasp of medical problems, to which he applied his wide biological knowledge and his skill in chemistry and physics. He was an acute observer, and was able to master subtle techniques and find appropriate subjects through which to approach general biological problems. He considered general aspects of biology in even his specialized studies. His work led him from morphology and developmental studies to an investigation of unicellular organisms, which he examined by means of physicochemical methods, in an attempt to understand the underlying principles of life. He was not, however, a systematic theoretician, but rather developed the ideas of others by systematic research.

Prowazek was a cultivated man who wrote and worked with facility. His interests were wide, and his publications include works of fiction, which he signed “P. Laner.” During his expeditions to the South Pacific he became enchanted by the tropics and fond of the primitive peoples; his book on the Mariana Islands is concerned with their history, flora, fauna, and ethnography.


I. Original Works. A bibliography of Prowazek’s works by M. Hartmann, in Archiv für Protistenkunde, 36 (1916), xiii-xix, contains 209 titles but a few items seem not to have been included. The more important and more general are “Die pathogenen Protozoen (mit Ausnahme der Hämosporidien),” in W. Kolle and A. Wassermann, eds., Handbuch der pathogenen Microorganismen, I (Jena, 1903), 865–1006, written with F. Doflein; Taschen-bitch der mikroskopischen Technik der Protistenuntersuchung (Leipzig, 1907; 3rd ed., 1922); and Einührung in die Physiologie der Einzelligen (Leipzig-Berlin, 1910). Prowazek also edited and contributed several articles to Handbuch der pathogenen Protozoen, 3 vols. (I-II, Leipzig, 1912–1915; 111, 1931). Prowazek also wrote “Über Zellein-schlüsse parasitären Natur beim Trachom,” in Arbeiten des K. Gesundheitsamte, 26 (1907), 44–47, written with L. Halberstädter; Die deutschen Marianen, ihre Natur und Geschichte (Leipzig, 1913); and “Atiologischc Unter-suchungen uber den Flecktyphus in Serbien 1913 und Hamburg I914,” in Beitrdge zur Klinik der Infekfions-krankheiten …, 4 (1915), 5–31.

II. Secondary Literature. A very good short account of Prowazek’s life and achievements, with citations of about 10 obituaries, is by G. Olpp in Hervorragende Tropenärzte in Wort und Bild (Munich, 1932), 330–334. It is based mainly on the best single appreciation: Max Hartmann, in Archiv für Protistenkunde, 36 (1915), i-xii. See also F. K. St[udnička], in Biologické listy,4 (1915), 95–96; J. Muk and F. Miller, Prof. Dr. St. Prowazek rodák z J. Hradce a bojovnik s epidemiemi (Jindřichův Hradec, 1942); and R. B. Goldschmidt, Portraits From Memory. Recollections of a Zoologist (Seattle, 1956), 138–142.

Vladislav Kruta