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Sir Ronald Ross

Discovering that the malaria parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes

Sir Ronald Ross KCB KCMG FRS FRCS(13 May 1857 – 16 September 1932), was a British medical doctor who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902 for his work on the transmission of malaria, becoming the first British Nobel laureate, and the first born outside of Europe. His discovery of the malarial parasite in the gastrointestinal tract of a mosquito proved that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes, and laid the foundation for the method of combating the disease. He was quite a polymath, writing a number of poems, published several novels, and composed songs. He was also an amateur artist and natural mathematician. He worked in the Indian Medical Service for 25 years. It was during his service that he made the groundbreaking medical discovery. After resigning from his service in India, he joined the faculty of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and continued as Professor and Chair of Tropical Medicine of the institute for 10 years. In 1926 he became Director-in-Chief of the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases, which was established in honour of his works. He remained there until his death.

His Career

Ross made his first important step in May 1895 when he observed the early stages of malarial parasite inside a mosquito stomach. However, his enthusiasm was interrupted as he was deployed to Bangalore to investigate an outbreak of cholera. Bangalore had no regular cases of malaria. He confided to Manson stating, "I am thrown out of employment and have 'no work to do'." But in April he had a chance to visit Sigur Ghat near the hill station of Ooty, where he noticed a mosquito on the wall in a peculiar posture, and for this he called it "dappled-winged" mosquito, not knowing the species. In May 1896, he was given a short leave that enabled him to visit a malaria-endemic region around Ooty. In spite of his daily quinine prophylaxis, he was down with severe malaria three days after his arrival. In June he was transferred to Secunderabad. After two years of research failure, in July 1897, he managed to culture 20 adult “brown” mosquitoes from collected larvae. He successfully infected the mosquitoes from a patient named Husein Khan for a price of 8 annas (one anna per blood-fed mosquito!). After blood-feeding, he dissected the mosquito and found an "almost perfectly circular" cell from the gut, which was certainly not of the mosquito. (This discovery was published in the 18 December 1897 issue of British Medical Journal.) On 20 August he confirmed the presence of the malarial parasite inside the gut of mosquito, which he originally identified as "dappled-wings" (which turned out to be species of the genus Anopheles). The next day, on 21 August, he confirmed the growth of the parasite in the mosquito. In the evening he composed the following poem for his discovery (originally unfinished, sent to his wife on 22 August, and completed a few days later):