A view of the main building of the Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory, IVRI Mukteshwar, July 2019. Photo: Shyamal/Wikimedia Cmmons, CC BY-SA 3.0
- If you wish to trace the history of veterinary science in India, you must make a trip to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute campus in Mukteshwar.
- The museum in this campus houses prized laboratory instruments used in the years past, including a microscope used by Robert Koch, who worked at Mukteshwar in 1897.
- The museum at Mukteshwar gives a cross section of scientific progress over the years and the library hosts priceless books and early volumes of scientific journals.
If you wish to trace the history of veterinary science in India, you must make a trip to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) campus in Mukteshwar.
The Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory, which was the forerunner of the IVRI, was set up in 1893. The Mukteshwar centre is now an active station under IVRI, and the ‘source’ from which the main IVRI was hived off. The museum in this campus houses prized laboratory instruments used in the years past, including a microscope used by Robert Koch, who worked at Mukteshwar in 1897 for about a year. Koch won a Nobel Prize in 1905 for discovering the tuberculosis bacterium. He is also known for the Koch postulates, which show a causal relationship between a microbe and a disease, influencing thinking on the science of diseases for a long time.
The museum at Mukteshwar gives a cross section of scientific progress over the years and ought to be converted into a national science museum instead of being confined to veterinary science. The library is equally fascinating, with priceless books and early volumes of scientific journals. It also contains a lot of manuscripts that will be an interesting source of information on the development of techniques in veterinary science over the years.
The unique Mukteshwar centre of IVRI is located at an altitude of 7,620 ft, amidst 3,450 acres of forest area in the Kumaon hills. Transportation of equipment and construction material in those days must have been laborious and time-consuming using mules and horses. It is understood that it took about three days to reach Mukteshwar from Kathgodam (1,500 ft).
When biosafety labs (BSL) were still to be known, the laboratories and sheds for holding infected animals needed confinement. Their location in the deep forests shows how natural quarantine methods were adopted. All the buildings are remarkably well-preserved and require less maintenance than our newer buildings. A chamber cut into a rock is an ingenious cold room in which to store biologicals.
The institute appointed Alfred Lingard, a medical bacteriologist, in 1891. He was initially based in Poona (Pune) and on his recommendation the laboratory was set up in Mukteshwar in 1893. He was in charge of the Mukteshwar station for 17 years, when the main focus was on the development of a vaccine for rinderpest. It is noteworthy that on his initiative, scientists like Robert Koch, George Gaffky and Richard Pfeiffer visited Mukteshwar.
Lingard’s appointment for handling animal diseases is of deep significance as it was a clear forerunner of the ‘One Health’ concept of today. The use of antisera for disease control in those days is reminiscent of the use of convalescent sera to treat COVID-19. The use of dead vaccines or attenuated vaccines is documented in a paper published in Nature in 1914.
Over the years, the centre supplied antisera for rinderpest, anthrax and haemorrhagic septicaemia. The centre’s work was divided into the three sections: pathology, serology and parasitology. It also grew into a reputed centre for animal virology. A station set up in 1913 at Izatnagar for vaccines and sera, which grew with expanded activities, became the main centre in 1931.
In 1936, the Imperial Veterinary Serum Institute, Izatnagar, became the Imperial Veterinary Research Institute and was renamed the ‘Indian Veterinary Research Institute’ after independence. Today, it is an outstanding institute that has made landmark contributions to veterinary science in India.
A video call with Thomas Mettenleiter, president of the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Germany, while in Mukteshwar was an interesting coincidence. Both IVRI Mukteshwar and this institute have been working on animal health for more than a century and have historic linkages.
Walking deep into the forest can mean an encounter with the occasional leopard. Things might have been perilous more than a hundred years ago, when leopards must have been in plenty along with bears and a few tigers. It is said that Jim Corbett had also visited Mukteshwar. The men and women who worked then were of indomitable spirit in the pursuit of science. They should inspire us. R.K. Singh, former director of IVRI, who suggested my visit, provided valuable insights.
A visit once again through the cracks of time to study the manuscripts and evolution of veterinary science is certainly something to look forward to.
George John is former vice-chancellor, Birsa Agricultural University, Ranchi, and former senior advisor, Department of Biotechnology.