The discovery of the diphtheria antitoxin.

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A toxin is any substance that is or contains poisons that is capable of causing death or serious injuries to the body. Antitoxins are able to neutralise toxins.


In 1890, the German physiologist Emil Adolf Behring and the Japanese scientist Kitasato Shibasaburō discovered the antitoxin against the diphtheria toxin. Here is how they discovered the diphtheria antitoxin¹ ²:

  • Iodine trichloride or sodium chloroaurate was added to the infection sites on animals that were infected with diphtheria and this attenuated the toxins from the bacteria and also killed some bacteria
  • As the attenuated bacteria either stopped producing or produced less of the toxin, antitoxins were produced by some of the animals’ bodies to counter the weakened toxins of the bacteria
  • Serum was extracted from the blood of the animals who developed immunity to diphtheria as the serum contained the antitoxins. Once the serums were purified, they were administered to patients who were ill with diphtheria in the form of a diphtheria vaccine (called a toxoid in this case since attenuated toxins were injected into the patients).

Here is a photograph of Emil Adolf Behring:

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And here is one of Kitasato Shibasaburō:

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