Date of Award

Spring 1958

Document Type



Life & Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

James Manion


The word phagocytosis has a colorful etymology. It comes from two Greek words--phageim, to eat; and kytos, cell, therefore an eating cell. These cells have also been figuratively referred to as "the policeman of the blood."

Phagocytosis was first demonstrated by Elie Metchnikoff, a Russian biologist, in the late nineteenth century. Since his time many theories have been forwarded on this wonderful phenomena. For a number of years after its discovery it enjoyed an era of great importance. However, with the discovery of our modern antibody-antigen reaction theory in 1935 by Heilderberger its importance has dropped to practically nil.

In the past 23 years therefore phagocytosis has been a much abused subject and wrongly so. It should actually, I believe, be one of the most important phases of immunology. As a result of this neglect we know hardly anything about the action, the cause, or even the result of this fascinating mechanism. I would like to point out that without phagocytosis, antibodies would be practically worthless. This is due to the simple fact that antibodies do not, for the most part, kill bacteria but merely temporarily inactivate them or agglutinate them so that phagocyte might do their job easier. I believe that someday after enough knowledge is gained in this field, phagocytosis may be controlled, perhaps even to the degree to make antibodies unnecessary. During the course of this thesis I have often asked myself this question; why would it not be possible to develop some type of agent that would "spur on" or activate phagocytes to tremendously increase their efficiency. Or, instead of "preparing" the invading organisms, as antibodies do, why should not the problem be attacked at its base, at the phagocyte itself. Such a development would surely be of monumental significance to the field of immunization.