Lister represented at Louis Pasteur Jubilee conference by Governing Body member, Prof Judith Armitage

To celebrate 200 years since the birth of Louis Pasteur, the University of Warsaw hosted international microbiology conference, The Last Word Belongs to Microbes, at the end of November.

Lister Governing Body member Professor Judy Armitage FRS represented the Institute as a Special Guest on the first day of the conference. Judy is Professor of Bacterial Biochemistry at University of Oxford. Her independent research career was enabled by a Lister Institute Fellowship, and she has been a member of our Governing Body since 2015.

Judy gave her talk as part of the opening session, after the French Ambassador, on the topic of the links between Pasteur and Joseph Lister.

The two men knew each other well. Indeed, Lister applied Pasteur’s theory to surgery in practice, bringing in procedures such as the routine sterilisation of instruments. In correspondence, they developed theories of immunity, focussing in particular on fowl cholera and rabies. And it was Lister who delivered an official laudatory speech to honour Pasteur, celebrating his 70th Jubilee in the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

Scientific Identity, Portrait of Louis Pasteur

Judy gave a brief history of Pasteur, Lister, and their contemporary Flugge, who took their findings and developed medical face masks and gowns – uniting all three as the founders of the modern aseptic operating theatre. The talk also brought in the link to Guinness in relation to fermentation, preventative medicine, and science funding.

She emphasised the historical and ongoing importance of scientific collaboration between Poland, Pasteur and Lister Institute, touching on the stories of Polish microbiologist and serologist, Arthur Felix, who worked at the Lister Institute after World War 1, and former Fellow, Les Borysiewicz, whose parents were Polish and who later received the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland – the highest honour that can be given to a foreign person. Judy concluded her talk with a call to arms in funding international interdisciplinary science.

Former Fellow, Professor Robin May, also joined the conference by video link to give a talk, entitled Understanding immune evasion by a lethal fungal pathogen. The fungus Cryptococcus neoformans can infect the lung and, in patients with impaired immunity, migrate to the brain, causing a lethal infection. Robin’s research is suggesting how this fungus manages to lie latent in the body for many years, only reactivating and spreading when we become immunocompromised.

His talk focused on unpublished data showing that C. neoformans secretes unknown molecules that can specifically disrupt antigen presentation – the process by which cells activate T-cells and cause them to mount a full immune response. This suggests that, during latent infection, the fungus is actively dampening immune responses in its immediate environment to remain hidden.

The wider conference programme covered a breadth of topics including microbial ecology, metabolism, genetics, and pathogenesis, along with antimicrobial drug and vaccine development.

Judy is currently turning her talk into an article for the Pasteur Institute’s journal, and we will share it when available.

You can watch both Judy and Robin talking about the effect winning the Lister Prize had on their respective careers on our new Lister Reflections page.