Ida A. Bengtson
|Ida A. Bengtson|
|Institutions||United States Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory|
|Alma mater||University of Nebraska, University of Chicago|
She was born in Nebraska in 1881 as the daughter of Swedish immigrants, and earned her AB degree from the University of Nebraska in 1903. She entered the University of Chicago to study bacteriology in 1911, and earned her Masters degree in 1913 and her PhD in 1919, both from the University of Chicago. While studying, she also worked as a bacteriologist in the Chicago Department of Health in 1915, and in 1916 she became the first woman hired to work in the United States Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory.
Ida's most significant scientific achievement was in regards to an organism called Clostridium botulinum, which causes a paralytic disease in chickens. This organism was first recognized and isolated in 1895 by Emile van Ermengem from home cured ham implicated in a botulism outbreak. The isolate was originally named Bacillus botulinus, after the Latin word for sausage, botulus. ("Sausage poisoning" was a common problem in 18th- and 19th-century Germany, and was most likely caused by botulism.) However, isolates from subsequent outbreaks were always found to be anaerobic spore formers, so Ida proposed that the organism be placed into the genus Clostridium as the Bacillus genus was restricted to aerobic spore-forming rods.
She is also known for preparing, during 1935-1936, the standard for gas gangrene toxins and anti-toxins. One of Ida’s other research interests was typhus, an exceedingly dangerous interest and she, like many other typhus researchers, eventually contracted the disease, although she recovered fully. Her chapter on the family “Rickettsiaceae” appeared in the sixth edition of the influential Bergey’s Manual of Determinative Bacteriology after her official retirement. She was awarded the Typhus Medal of the American Typhus Commission in 1947.
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