Did you know Bengaluru was the centre of Nobel Prize-winner Ronald Ross's work on malarial parasite?

Ross’s study of parasite in Bengaluru won him 1902 Nobel Prize for medicine.

Did you know Bengaluru was the centre of Nobel Prize-winner Ronald Ross's work on malarial parasite?
In the early 1880s, an acting garrison surgeon of the British cantonment lived in a mosquito-infested bungalow on South Parade, now MG Road. He discovered that the menace could be eliminated by emptying containers — barrels, garden tubs and flower pots — in which water stagnated. To his surprise, people opposed the idea. They believed it would upset the order of nature: that mosquitoes were created for a purpose and that humankind should bear with them.

The young surgeon, however, started studying mosquitoes closely. This episode in Bengaluru goes down in history as the starting point of Ronald Ross’s Nobel Prize-winning journey to discover plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria.

“Ross was not only a medical officer but a writer and poet. Given his interest in sanitation, he discovered underground water springs in Bengaluru. Unfortunately, most are dead today, except one in Malleswaram,” said historian Suresh Moona.

Ross was born in Almora, Uttarakhand, on May 13, 1857, three days after the first Indian War of Independence. Growing up, he joined the Indian Medical Service at the insistence of his father. Ross’ first posting was in the Madras Presidency, followed by Bengaluru.

Dr Bevinje Srinivas Kakkilaya, a Mangaluru-based physician, writes in his website Malaria Site, that Ross returned to England on a furlough in 1888, but after a failed attempt at a literary career, he returned to Bengaluru. This time with his wife, Rosa Bessie Bloxam.

He was posted as staff surgeon at a private hospital and began to formulate theories on malaria. This time, he lived in High Grounds. Ross, a golf and tennis player, loved Bengaluru. He wrote that the sun and the breeze here “were not those of Earth but of heaven.”
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Around this time, he collaborated with Patrick Manson, a tropical disease expert who had recently discovered that mosquitoes spread the disease filariasis. Ross left Bengaluru around 1893 but returned in September 1895 to investigate a large cholera outbreak in Shivajinagar, Halasuru and parts of the pete. Amidst his sanitation duties, he pursued his research on malaria and wrote many letters to Manson.

On August 20, 1897 (which went on to become World Mosquito Day), Ross discovered plasmodium in a mosquito while stationed at Secunderabad. He returned to Bengaluru on September 4 and wrote a paper on his findings, which was published in the British Medical Journal in December 1897. Ross received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902.

Physician Dr Ramana Rao said after Ross, the city made another significant contribution to malarial treatment when researchers here discovered a special drug to cure resistant malaria in 2015. “Resistance to the conventional chloroquine and antimalarials was increasing. With this discovery, history came back in full circle in Bengaluru.”
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