Jules J.B.V. Bordet, Belgian bacteriologist and physiologist, graduated as Doctor of Medicine (MD) at the University of Brussels in 1892. From 1894 to 1901 he worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Some of his early papers dealt with topics such as the adaptation of virusses to vaccines, the working of preventive serums, an anti-streptococcus serum, and the mechanism of agglutination.
In response to the spread of rinderpest to southern Africa in 1896 Bordet came to the South African Republic (Transvaal) as assistant to Jules Danysz* to work on a cure for this and other stock diseases. They arrived in Pretoria on 19 January 1897. An experimental station to study rinderpest had just been set up on the farm Waterval (near Onderstepoort), north of Pretoria. Here the two investigated the prevention and cure of the disease through inoculation with serum or defibrinated blood, in collaboration with the Government Veterinary Surgeon of the Transvaal, Arnold Theiler*. The main report on their work covered the period 15 February to 15 June 1897 and was published in the Government Gazette of 28 July as Rapport van de heeren Jean Danysz en Dr J. Bordet in zake hunne onderzoekingen op runderpest.... Earlier investigations of inoculation with serum had been conducted by Robert Koch* at Kimberley in January 1897 with limited success; and by Theiler and H. Watkins-Pitchford* in the western Transvaal, but the latter work was interrupted by Theiler's recall to Pretoria early in 1897. Danysz and Bordet used serum obtained from animals that had recovered from the disease and which had subsequently received several large doses of virulent rinderpest blood. The inoculated cattle were then put together with infected animals, from which they contracted a modified form of the disease under the protection of the serum. In this way the two investigators became the first to convert the passive immunity conferred by serum to active immunity.
One of their recommendations was that an Interterritorial Conference be held to discuss rinderpest. The conference took place in Pretoria from 2 to 13 August 1897 and provided an opportunity for a thorough exchange of ideas and results. Their method proved so successful that it was introduced throughout the country, replacing the bile inoculation method developed by Koch earlier in the year. By the end of the year the disease had been conquered. An English translation of their report was included in an article by Hutcheon (1898), while a report of the work, with Theiler as a third author, also appeared in the Veterinary Journal the same year.
Danysz and Bordet remained in the Transvaal to study other stock diseases, particularly horse sickness, again in collaboration with Theiler. A horse suffering from the disease was sent to them from Natal by David Bruce*. The amount of work done can be gauged from a comment by Watkins-Pitchford (1898) that their work produced bulky records, "the temperature charts alone when joined being over a mile in length". However, no breakthrough was made. Their contract expired after a year and Bordet left the country on 7 January 1898, a short time after Danysz. In contrast with Danysz, Bordet was a friendly person with scientific integrity and Theiler got on well with him.
Soon after his return to France, in 1898, Bordet became the first person to describe bacterial haemolysis (disintegration of red blood cells). In 1901 he left the French Pasteur Institute to found and direct a new Pasteur Institute in Brussels. Here he discovered the bacillus of whooping cough in 1906 and devised a method of immunisation. The next year he was appointed professor of bacteriology at the University of Brussels, a position he held (in addition to his directorship of the Pasteur Institute) until his retirement in 1935. His research was mainly in immunology and serology. With others he published Studies in immunity in 1909. Later books by him were Traité de l'immunité dans les maladies infectieuses (1920) and Infection et immunité (1947). He received wide recognition for his work, including a fellowship of the Royal Society of London in 1916 and the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1919.
In 1899 Bordet married Marthe Levoz, with whom he had a son and two daughters. His son, Paul Bordet, succeeded him as director of the Pasteur Institute in Brussels and also as professor of bacteriology.