Scientist Ronald Ross: Biography & Discovery

Instructor: Sujata Archer
In this lesson you will learn about a scientist named Ronald Ross, who was the first Briton to receive a Nobel Prize in medicine for his research on malaria transmission.

Ronald Ross

Just imagine dissecting through a tiny mosquito and making a scientific discovery that would have a significant impact on the treatment of a major disease. That is exactly what Ronald Ross did in 1897 in Secunderabad, India.

Ronald Ross
Ronald Ross


Ronald Ross was the eldest child of British parents who lived in India. His father was in the British army in India. At the age of eight his parents sent him off to England to stay with an uncle and aunt and he pursued his education there.

Music, literature, mathematics and poetry were his favorite subjects. But his father wanted him to become a physician. So, in 1874, he studied medicine at St. Bartholomew's Medical College in London. Even during his medical studies, he wrote a lot and pursued his love of mathematics.

In 1879 he passed the exam of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and became a ship surgeon on a transatlantic vessel. He wanted to go and work in India and decided that he would continue studying to gain the Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. This license allowed him to work in the Indian Medical Services in 1881. Joining the Indian Medical Services was also something Ross' father had wanted him to pursue.

Early Career

His first posting was in Madras where his work focused on treating soldiers with malaria. The treatment of malaria at that time was administering quinine to the patients. Despite the availability of this treatment, many infected soldiers failed to get it and did not survive. Ross worked in many places in India, including the Andaman Islands and Burma. It was during his time in Bangalore that he noticed his house had a lot of mosquitoes that were breeding in a tub of water kept outside the window. He noticed there were larvae swimming in this water.

In 1888, after seven years in India, he returned to England. During this time he got a diploma in public health because pursuing his work on malaria had become very critical. Ross did not give up on his other ambitions and continued writing and published a novel. In 1889 he married Rosa Bessie Bloxam, with whom he eventually had four children, and returned to his work in India.

Early Work

In 1892 Ross started taking a keen interest in malaria due to the findings of Charles Laveran who had written about malaria. In 1894 Ross had taken a long holiday in England where he had met Patrick Manson, who had shown that malaria parasites exist in the blood. Ross returned to India in 1895, ready to pursue what he had observed in Manson's lab. He found that there were parasites in the stomach of a mosquito. He also observed that malaria was prevalent in areas with large mosquito populations. During this period, Ross even had volunteers drink water containing dead mosquitoes that had previously fed on a malaria-infected patient. The volunteers did not contract malaria in the experiment, which showed that the theory of water transmission of the disease was not valid. This was the first major public health contribution of Ross.

In 1896 Ross wrote to Manson stating that malaria was spread by the bite of the female mosquito. When the mosquito bites, it injects a little fluid into its victim. However, Ross had used Culex mosquitoes and his results were not proving his theory. Manson recommended that Ross look at other species of mosquitoes. Unfortunately, the research took some time to progress because Ross contracted malaria and cholera during a short period of time.

The Solution

In 1897, Ross decided to study different species of mosquitoes. He found that larvae from one species hatched and produced a mosquito with spotted wings. He placed the mosquitoes on a patient who had malaria. The next day he dissected these mosquitoes. He found that they had cells in their stomach which he had not seen in other mosquitoes. The cells were circular and did not look like mosquito stomach cells. These cells were linked with the Anopheles mosquito.

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