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These silkworm cocoons were used as part of Louis Pasteur’s investigation into the diseases of silkworms at Pont Gisquet, southern France, from 1865-1870. Silkworms were important to the French economy for the production of silk and an epidemic disease had been killing them in vast numbers. After five years of research he discovered that the disease was in fact two separate infections caused by parasites. He advised that all infected silkworms should be isolated and destroyed. Following his advice the disease was eliminated and the French silk industry flourished. The cocoons are shown here with Louis Pasteur’s microscope (A60510).

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Glossary: microbiology

Branch of biology that deals with micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and their effects.

Glossary: silkworm

Moth caterpillar that feeds chiefly on mulberry leaves. The common domesticated Bombyx mori is raised commercially for its silk cocoon

Glossary: epidemic

A sudden widespread occurance of an infection with high numbers of people affected.

Glossary: cocoon

Case or wrapping produced by larval forms of animals (such as some moths, butterflies, and wasps) for protection during the pupal stage in their life cycle. Most cocoons are made of silk.

Glossary: parasite

An organism which obtains food and shelter from another organism. The second organism is known as the host. The host is harmed in some way by the parasite. Examples of human parasites include the tape worm and the head louse.