Jules Bordet (1870 – 1961)

Jules Jean-Baptiste Vincent Bordet (Soignies, 13 June 1870 – Brussels, 6 April 1961)

With the death of Jules Bordet in 1961, the ”last of the Pasteurians of the great epoch” disappeared. After obtaining his medical degree at Université Libre de Bruxelles in 1892, Bordet moved to the Institut Pasteur, Paris where from 1894 to 1901 he was part of Elie Metchnikkof’s laboratory. In 1895 he discovered that two components of blood serum are responsible for the destruction of bacterial cells (bacteriolysis): one is a heat-stable specific substance found only in animals already immune to the bacterium (antibodies); the other is a heat-sensitive substance found in all animals and was named alexin (later on called complement). Bordet thus deciphered the mode of destruction of bacteria in vaccinated subjects. After a mission on behalf of the Transvaal to study rinderpest (where he met a German mission led by Robert Koch), Bordet worked on hemolytic sera and precipitating sera in the Institut Pasteur, which allowed to establish serodiagnostic methods.

In 1900, Bordet returned to Brussels where he became director of a new antirabies and bacteriological institute that became the Institut Pasteur du Brabant (with special permission of Madame Pasteur) in 1908.

Papers published in that period were devoted to :

– Studies of the antigen-antibody reaction;
– The discovery of the whooping cough agent (1906) in his young daughter who suffered from this infectious disease (work in collaboration with this brother-in-law Octave Gengou);
– Avian diphtery;
– The description of the agent of the bovine pleuropneumonia;
– Studies about the complement-fixation testing methods, allowing the development of serological tests for syphilis (specifically, the development of the Wassermann test by August von Wassermann; the same technique is used today in serologic testing for countless other diseases).;
– Studies on bacteriophages.

He was also professor of bacteriology at the Free University of Brussels (ULB).

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to him in 1919 for his discoveries relating to immunity.

The agent of the whooping cough disease was later (1952) called Bordetella pertussis. The genus Bordetella belongs to the Betaproteobacteria (Burkholderiales, Alcaligenaceae). Various Bordetella species were recently fully sequenced at the genome level and provided interesting specific features with other genera of interest in the Burkholderiales (Alcaligenes, Cupriavidus, Ralstonia, Delftia, Comamonas, Burkholderia…)

His name was also given to a Main-belt Asteroid discovered on May 3, 1997 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory (9447 Julesbordet, 1997 JJ18).


This “Portrait de Jules Bordet” by Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux was requested in 1950 by Albert Claude when he was appointed a scientific director of the Institut Jules Bordet.

To discover the numerous contributions to Jules Bordet in the field of microbiology please also read this article published in 1962 in Journal of General Microbiology (Beumer J., 1962. Jules Bordet 1870–1961. J. Gen. Microbiol. 29:1–13).