Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp was born in Bassing, near Dienze (Moselle), France in 1816. He was 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. There, he began to study pharmacy.
After the death of his uncle from cholera in 1834, he moved to Strasbourg to continue his studies at the École supérieure de Pharmacie. In 1843, he opened a pharmacy in Strasbourg (which existed up to the time of his death). He took on various faculty positions at the University of Strasbourg, and, in 1854, was appointed Professor of Chemistry, a post previously held by Louis Pasteur.
Over the course of his life, Béchamp developed several useful commercial inventions. In 1852, he created an inexpensive industrial process to produce aniline by the reduction of nitrobenzene with iron filings and acetic acid. This method greatly contributed to the emergence of the synthetic dye industry. For this work, along with others, he was awarded the Daniel Dollfus Prize of the Société Industrielle de Mulhouse in 1864. He also first synthesized the organic derivative of arsenic, p-aminophenylarsonate, which was subsequently used in the treatment of trypanosomiasis.
Nothing is lost, nothing is created... all is transformed. Nothing is the prey of death. All is the prey of life.
- Antoine Béchamp
Béchamp received a Doctor of Science in 1853. His doctoral thesis was on the Albuminoids and Their Transformation into Urea, in which he showed that urea can be formed from albuminoids (proteinaceous materials) by oxidation with potassium permanganate. In short, through a skillful, systematic use of the optical activity of albuminoid substances, Béchamp was able to distinguish a large number of complex compounds that his predecessors, relying on more standard analytical methods, had failed to discover.
In 1856, he received his Doctorate in Medicine and 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 difficult, as ongoing disputes with Louis Pasteur led to efforts to have his work placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the index of books prohibited by the Catholic Church).
Béchamp’s theory of life, which he derived from the study of subcellular granulations or microzymes (or "microzymas" - more below), became his principal interest and led to inevitable clashes - with Pasteur in particular. He did not support spontaneous generation, but neither did he accept the germ theory of disease.
Eventually, due to continued disagreements with Pasteur, he had to vacate his post in 1888. He acquired a pharmacy in Le Havre, and ultimately moved to Paris, where he was given a small laboratory at the Sorbonne.
On April 15, 1908 one of the greatest scientists who ever lived passed away at the ripe age of 91. Upon his death, it took eight entire
8-1/2"x11" pages of the French Moniteur Scientifique to list just the titles of his professionally published studies. That magazine was the equivalent publication to that of our National Academy of Sciences.
It took 8 pages of the French Moniteur Scientifique to list just the titles of Béchamp's
professionally published studies.
Experiments in Fermentation
During the 1850’s, the prevailing belief was that cane sugar, when dissolved in water, spontaneously transformed at an ordinary temperature into invert sugar (a mixture of equal parts glucose and fructose) - but an 1854 experiment with starch led Béchamp to question this.
Béchamp's series of observations came to be known as his "Beacon Experiment". In this experiment, he took a tightly stoppered glass bottle (containing only air) and dissolved perfectly pure cane sugar in water.
Several other bottles contained the same solution, but with a chemical added.
In the solution without any added chemical, molds appeared in about 30 days, and the inversion of sugar occurred rapidly. (Béchamp measured the inversion frequently with a polariscope.) Molds and inversion did not occur in the bottles with the added chemical.
These observations were concluded on February 3, 1855, and his paper was published in the Report of the French Academy of Science for the session of February 19, 1855.
This left the molds without an explanation as to their origin, so Béchamp started a second series of observations on June 25, 1856 (at Strasbourg), and on March 27, 1857, he started a third series of flasks to study the effects of creosote on the changes. Both series were ended at Montpellier on December 5, 1857.
In the second series, he spilled a little liquid from flasks 1 and 2 during manipulation, so these two flasks contained a little air in contact with the liquid. In these two flasks, molds soon appeared, and alteration in the medium ensued. He also found that the changes were more rapid in the flask in which the mold grew more rapidly. In the other nine flasks, there was no air, no mold formed, and no inversion of the sugar occurred; plainly air was needed for the molds and inversion to occur. This proved beyond any doubt that the molds and inversion of the sugar could not be a "spontaneous" transformation, but, instead, must be due to something in the air admitted to the first two flasks.
At this time, it was generally believed that fermentation could not take place except in the presence of albuminoids, which were in general use by Pasteur and others as part of their solutions. Hence, their solutions could have contained these living organizations to start with. Béchamp’s solutions contained only pure cane sugar and water, and when heated with fresh-slaked lime did not disengage ammonia – ample proof that they contained no albumen. Yet molds, obviously living organisms, and therefore containing albuminoid matter, had appeared in these two solutions. He sent his report to the Academy of Science in December 1857, and an extract was published in its reports of January 4, 1858.
Although Schwann had suggested airborne germs in about 1837, he had not proved his ideas; now Béchamp proved their existence. Yet Pasteur in his 1857 memoirs still clung to the idea that both the molds and ferments "take birth spontaneously", although his solutions all contained dead yeast or yeast broth which might have carried germs or ferments from the start.
In a discussion of spontaneous generation at the Sorbonne on November 22, 1861, Pasteur had the nerve - in the presence of Professor Béchamp - to take all credit for proving that living organisms appeared in a medium devoid of albuminoid matter. Béchamp did not charge him with plagiarism, but asked Pasteur to at least admit knowledge of Béchamp's 1857 work. Pasteur evaded the question, merely admitting that Béchamp’s work was "rigidly exact". This was not an innocent mistake on Pasteur's part, but instead, deliberate fraud. Béchamp, however, was too much of a gentleman to make any unpleasant charges.
Pasteur and Plagiarism
Béchamp was the first to prove that the molds accompanying fermentation were, or contained, living organisms, and could not be spontaneously generated, but must be an outgrowth of some living organism carried in the air. This much was in his 1858 memoir, six years before Pasteur came to the same conclusions. Being the first to realize that these molds or ferments were living organisms, he naturally was also the first to attempt to determine their true nature and functions, and their origins.
Soon thereafter, disputes between Béchamp and Pasture developed. The (French) Academy of Sciences was a very important venue for airing and developing views and a place to put forward novel ideas. Controversy between Béchamp and Pasteur in the Academies and elsewhere continued throughout the rest of their lives.
Pasteur concluded that each kind of pathogen produces one specific fermentation, while Béchamp proved that a microorganism might vary its fermentation effect in conformity with the surrounding medium. Bechamp’s assertion that these microforms, under varying conditions, might even change their shape was later proved conclusively by Felix Loehnis and N.R. Smith of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1916.
It seems likely that, in the 1850s and 1860s, Béchamp and Pasteur were making similar discoveries independently, a not-unknown phenomenon in science. Some of the accusations of plagiarism are therefore probably not justified. Pasteur was, without question, aggressive and intolerant of opposition, and treated Béchamp poorly. As a pioneer of pathophysiology, Antoine Béchamp should have been recognized in the same way as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton.
Unfortunately, the magnitude of Béchamp’s decades of research was buried and discredited by Louis Pasteur.
Placing molds under a microscope, Béchamp noted a diversity in their appearance and was soon involved in a study of microbiology. In his earlier experiments, Béchamp had used several salts, including potassium carbonate, and showed that in its presence, fermentation with cane sugar did not take place. But when he repeated this experiment using calcium carbonate (common chalk) instead of the potassium carbonate, he found that fermentation with cane sugar occurred, even when creosote was added.
This observation was so unexpected that he omitted it from his earlier memoir to verify it before publishing it as fact. In carefully controlled experiments, he found that when chemically pure calcium carbonate, CaCO3, was added to his sugar solutions, no inversion took place, but when ordinary chalk (even that chipped from native rock) without access of air was used, inversion always occurred. On heating the common chalk to 300 degrees, he found that it lost its powers of fermentation, and on examining more of the unheated common chalk under the microscope, he found it contained some "little bodies" similar to those found in prior observations, and which he found did not exist in the chemically pure CaCO3, nor in the chalk that had been heated. These "little bodies" had the power of movement and were smaller than any of the microphytes seen in fermentation or molds - but were more powerful ferments than any he had encountered previously.
Their power of movement and production of fermentation caused him to regard them as living organisms. Professor Béchamp found that the chalk seemed to be formed mostly of the mineral or fossil remains of a "microscopic world" and contained organisms of infinitesimal size, which he believed to be alive.
In 1866, he sent the Academy of Science a memoir called On the Role of Chalk in Butyric and Lactic Fermentations, and the Living Organism Contained in it. In this paper, he named his "little bodies" microzymas, from the Greek words for "small ferment". He also studied the relations of his microzymas of chalk to the molecular granulations of animal and vegetable cells, with many more geological examinations, and wrote a paper entitled On Geological Microzymas of Various Origins, which was abstracted in the April 25, 1870 Comptes Rendus.
Béchamp proved that the molecular granulation observed in yeast and other animal and vegetable cells had individuality and life, and the power to produce fermentation - so he also called them microzymas. He deemed his chalk or geological microzymas "morphologically identical" with the microzymas of living beings.
In innumerable laboratory experiments, he found microzymas everywhere, in all organic matter, in both healthy tissues and in diseased (where he also found them associated with various kinds of bacteria). Béchamp believed that microzymas were the living remains of plant and animal life of which, in either a recent or distant past, they had been the constituent cellular elements, and that they were in fact the primary anatomical elements of all living beings. He demonstrated that upon the death of an organ its cells disappear, but the microzymas remain and are imperishable.
Béchamp referred to microzymas as the builders and destroyers of cells. It is the destructive aspect, or the “end of all organization,” which concerns us in disease. Béchamp always found microzymas remaining after the complete decomposition of a dead organism and concluded that they are the only non-transitory biological elements. In addition, they carry out the vital function of decomposition (or are the precursors of beings - bacteria, yeasts and fungi - which do so).
From his book The Third Element of The Blood, Antoine Béchamp, translated and republished in 1994, "all-natural organic matters (matters that once lived), absolutely protected from atmospheric germs, invariably and spontaneously alter and ferment, because they necessarily and inherently contain within themselves the agents of their spontaneous alteration, digestion, dissolution".
These "microzymas" were later described in pleomorphic terms and renamed by such scientists as Gunther Enderlein, Ernst Almquist, Albert Calmette, Royal Raymond Rife, Lyda Mattman, E.C. Hort, Felix Lohnis, and more currently re-described and photographed by Gaston Naessens.
Béchamp was able to show that all animal and plant cells contain these tiny particles which continue to live after the death of the organism and out of which microorganisms can develop.
In his book Mycrozymas, Béchamp laid the foundation from which the concept of pleomorphism could evolve.
The microzyma is at the beginning and end of all organization.
It is the fundamental anatomical element whereby the cellules, the tissues, the organs, the whole of an organism are constituted.
- Antoine Béchamp
Béchamp claimed that microzymas routinely become forms normally referred to as bacteria, and that bacteria can revert or devolve to the microzymian state. This laid the foundation for the principle of pleomorphism, which is central to understanding the appearance of “infectious” and degenerative disease symptoms in the body. This school of pleomorphic biology was in direct conflict with monomorphic theory, supported by Louis Pasteur. Once again, Béchamp and Pasture crossed swords.
The debate split microbiologists into two opposing schools: monomorphism and pleomorphism. Monomorphism has eventually become the accepted scientific paradigm, but as we shall see, reports continue to appear demonstrating that bacteria exhibit extreme morphological variations and undergo complex life cycles. Much of this morphological change is attributed to environmental or "terrain" changes. Today most microbiologists have been trained within the monomorphic doctrine. They accept that, apart from minor variation, each bacterial cell is derived from a previously existing cell of practically the same size and shape. Cocci generally beget cocci, and rods give rise to rods. The monomorphic view is that by binary fission most bacteria divide transversely to produce two new cells which eventually achieve the same size and morphology of the original. In the same way, a single spore germinates to give rise to a vegetative cell essentially the same as the cell from which the spore originated. Exceptions to this rule are reported in certain so-called higher bacteria, but most pleomorphic observations are ignored and generally regarded as diagnostically insignificant staining artifacts or debris.
The original pleomorphists were particularly vocal during the late 1800’s into the first three decades of the 20th century. The basic tenet of pleomorphism is that even common bacteria showed complex life cycles which often included a frequently pathogenic, filterable, or "hidden phase". Some viewed that bacteria are rudimentary components of the fungal life cycle. The principal proponents of pleomorphism opened the door on microbiology and medicine. Even renowned microbiologists like Ferdinand Cohn published evidence in support of extreme pleomorphism. Similarly, the eminent American bacteriologist, Theobald Smith, isolated a bacterium which apparently occurred in three forms: a bacillus, a coccus with an endospore or arthrospore, and a conglomeration of all three. A thorough account of the pleomorphist case is given in the monograph by Felix Lohnis, 1922, entitled Studies upon the Life Cycle of Bacteria.
By 1928, in an article on morphology published in the monograph The Newer Knowledge of Bacteriology and Immunology, Clark stated that "bacteria, even amongst the Eubacteriales, at times reproduce by means other than equal fission seems to me to be definitely proved". He quotes the work of Hort, who showed that under adverse conditions, colon-typhoid bacteria reproduce by budding, by producing Y-shaped and large aberrant forms and deeply staining granules which can be filterable.
Pleomorphism vs. Monomorphism
References to pleomorphism disappeared in biology textbooks starting in the 1920s up to the present date. However, during the 1960’s, work on L-forms bacteria appeared to substantiate some of the claims made by earlier pleomorphists. Hieneberger-Noble, for example, suggested that L-forms correlated with the symplasm observed by Felix Lohnis. Bacterial conjugation, an idea that had been scoffed at by many monomorphists, was now being taken seriously. Previously, Lohnis had been mocked when he had claimed that he, and numerous other workers including Potthoft, had observed conjugation tubes connecting two bacterial cells. Wood and Kelly recently showed that the morphology of a species of Thiobacillus
varied in response to environmental conditions, while limited pleomorphism in Bradyrhizobium was reported by Reding and Lepo to be induced by dicarboxylate.
We now understand the concept of pleomorphism to mean the existence of irregular and variant forms in the same species or strain of microorganisms, a condition analogous to polymorphism in higher organisms. Pleomorphism is particularly prevalent in certain groups of bacteria and in yeasts, rickettsias, and mycoplasmas and greatly complicates the task of identifying and studying them.
It is hypothesized that these pleomorphic forms are truly not staining artifacts or cellular debris, but instead represent various stages in the life cycle of stressed bacteria: cell wall-deficient/defective (often called L-forms) that are difficult-to-culture or nonculturable. Essential to the thesis is that small, electron dense, non-vesiculated L-forms are the central (core) element in bacterial persistence. Depending on the stimulus received, these dense forms might be considered as undifferentiated cells, with the capacity to develop along several different routes. Hence, these altered forms created in vivo take up intracellular and/or extracellular residence; possibly establishing a sort of immune protected parasitic relationship, resisting/surviving phagocytic action, and creating subtle pathologic changes in the host during a prolonged period of tissue persistence. This might translate into an etiology for chronic inflammatory diseases, when the stressed bacteria increase in numbers and overwhelm the normal biological functions of the host.
Cellular Terrain Theory vs. Germ Theory
The primary cause of disease is in us, always in us.
- Antoine Béchamp
While Pasteur was promoting his “monomorphic” germ theory, Béchamp was developing the theory that the body’s ability to develop disease or to heal was dependent on its general condition or its internal environment. Pastueur claimed that diseases come from outside the body, while Béchamp said that diseases arise from inside the body. Pasteur promoted the idea that microorganisms are the primary cause of disease. Béchamp, on the other hand, claimed that the deterioration of the host body caused disease.
Pasteur believed that every disease is associated with a particular microorganism, while Béchamp countered that every disease is associated with a particular condition within the body. For Béchamp, disease occurs when the "terrain" or internal environment of the body becomes favorable to pathogenic organisms. In other words, disease occurs, to a large extent, as a malfunction of physiology and because of the changes that take place when metabolic processes, such as pH, are out of balance. Pathogens then become opportunistic and stimulate the occurrence of symptoms, which, if not corrected, ultimately culminate in disease. In short, Pasteur’s "germ theory" states that the body is sterile, and disease is caused by external germs (microbes). For Béchamp, microbes naturally exist in the body and it is the disease that reflects the deteriorated condition of the host and changes the function of the microbes. The terrain - the internal environment - in response to various forces, fosters the development of germs from within.
For Béchamp, a weakened terrain naturally becomes vulnerable to external harmful microzyma. These pleomorphic pathogenic microorganisms enacting upon the unbalanced, malfunctioning cell metabolism and dead tissue produce disease. Béchamp postulated that the diseased, acidic, low-oxygen cellular environment is created by a weakened physiological state. So, our bodies are in effect mini-ecosystems, or biological terrains in which nutritional status, level of toxicity and pH (or acid/alkaline balance) play key roles.
During Béchamp’s and Pasteur’s time, in the 1800’s, no one really knew the cause of disease - so there were many speculations and experiments performed in an attempt to understand and treat diseases. Most people had a life expectancy of less than 50 years, and the predominant cause of morbidity and mortality was infections. Thus, before the 1900’s, if you could understand what caused infections, you could understand most diseases.
Modern biochemistry and molecular techniques have greatly advanced our understanding of infectious diseases. Given the species specificity of some pathogens, we cannot always infect animals to prove causation, nor can we always culture an organism. Third-generation DNA sequencing has made it possible to completely sequence a bacterial genome in a few hours, and now has become a standard procedure. Information gathered from tens of thousands of bacterial genomes has had a major impact on our views of the bacterial world. We know that the genomic diversity of the bacterial world is far greater than expected, and even within a species, there can be a large degree of genetic variation. Observations of pleomorphic bacteria too are becoming more commonly reported. It is evident that the pleomorphic bacteria from blood are highly organized entities rather than random protein debris resulting from degradation of blood cellular elements.
We also know there is great variability in the ability of many pathogenic organisms to cause disease and great variability in the host's immune system to combat diseases. Some pathogens are more virulent than others and some people are more susceptible to disease.
Additionally, in the last two decades, we have seen an exponential growth in the understanding of the variability in the human immune system to explain why some people become ill from a given pathogen and others do not. Unlike Pasteur, who spawned a mentality of fearfully killing germs to prevent disease, Béchamp essentially understood the balance - and the importance - of the environments we create with foods that either support or do no not support disease.
One of the most profound conclusions of Bechamp’s untiring and painstaking research is that there is an independently living micro-anatomical element in the cells and fluids of all organisms. This element, which he called microzymas, precedes life at the cellular level, even the genetic level, and is the foundation of all biological organization.
Béchamp claimed that microzymas transformed into bacteria upon death and decay of the host; that they are at the beginning and end of all organization; that they are the builders and destroyers of cells.
Gunther Enderlein also described small entities he called endobionts and protits in human blood and believed that these particles underwent a complex life cycle that correlated with disease progression. Similar observations were made in the 1950’s by Villequez who proposed that human blood was infected by a latent parasite like bacterial L-forms (i.e., bacteria lacking a cell wall). Tedeschi and Pease reported that the blood of healthy and diseased individuals appeared to be continually infected with bacteria. Naessens described small living blood particles, which he called somatids, as part of a complex life cycle that may culminate in the formation of pathogenic bacterial forms under disease conditions.
While many of these observations were made before the advent of modern molecular biology analyses, recent studies have provided further support that pleomorphic bacteria may exist in human blood.
Béchamp’s research seeded our awareness of pleomorphism and appreciation of the importance of the cellular terrain and how it determines whether diseases manifest or become chronic. His legacy will foster new discoveries in pleomorphic microbes and eventually Antoine Béchamp will be a household name as familiar as Louis Pasteur.