Born in Canada and educated in Paris and Leiden, Félix d'Hérelle was a physician, bacteriologist, and pioneer in the use of bacteriophages to kill microbial pathogens.
D’Hérelle's early career was peripatetic. In 1901 he was posted to Guatemala City as director of the bacteriology laboratory of the municipal hospital. In his next position, in Yucatan, he studied the fermentation of sisal hemp. In 1909, he returned to Paris, settling at the Pasteur Institut where he remained, refining his knowledge of microbiology, until 1921.
His contributions to the nascent, so-called "phage studies" in microbiology included a description of the corpuscular form of the bacteriophage, a virus much smaller than any bacterium which colonizes and kills it, and its mode of action. This work confirmed and extended the prior discovery of the bacteriophage by Twort and Hankin. D’Hérelle also attempted to treat many human and animal diseases with phage therapy, which enjoyed some success before being replaced by antibiotic and chemotherapeutic treatments. The bacteriophage remains an important investigative tool in microbiology.
D'Hérelle's contributions to science and medicine earned him the Leeuwenhoek Medal (1925), the Schaudinn Medal (1930), and the Prix Petit d’Ormoy of the Academy of Sciences (1948); he received honorary doctorates from the universities of Leiden, Yale, Montreal, and Laval.
Théodoridès, Jean. Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008, VI, 297-299.
Last modified 1 February 2017