Aspiring actor in youth, this mycologist published novel to pay for education & revolutionized breweries by work on his yeast!!
Posted August 26th, 2014
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Emil Christian Hansen (May 8, 1842 – August 27, 1909) was a Danish mycologist and fermentation physiologist. Born in Ribe, Hansen’s large family and poor circumstances often made it necessary for Emil Hansen to help his father. In 1850 he entered school and showed himself to be a diligent pupil and an avid reader. He wished to become an actor, but his father would not allow it. In 1860 he became a journeyman house painter; he also sought to become an artist, but the Academy of Fine Arts refused his application for admission.


Hansen became a private tutor in 1862 at the estate of Holsteinborg, where he prepared to become a teacher. During his stay at Holsteinborg the botanist Peder Nielsen, at that time schoolmaster in Ørslev, aroused Hansen’s interest in botany and gave him emotional and financial support. In spite of illness Hansen completed a three-year teaching course at Copenhagen Polytechnical High School in 1869, earning money by publishing novels. 


He worked as an unpaid assistant to zoologist Japetus Steenstrup (1813–1897). In 1876, Hansen received a gold medal from Copenhagen University for his essay on fungi growing on mammal dung, the subject of the 1874 competition. Hansen gave a detailed morphological and anatomical description of the fungi he had found and mentioned several new species (for example,Peziza ripensis) as a result of his culture experiments. His prize-winning work was published as De danske Gjødningssvampe (1876), and he spent the following years studying the biology and variation of species of fungi. 


He also described a new family of Ascomycetes, Anixiopsis, from the species Eurotium stercorarium(1878). These studies were published in French and German (both in 1880). Inspired by the physiologist P. L. Panum, Hansen next studied fermentation in the zoophysiological laboratory of Copenhagen University.


In 1876, with Alfred Jørgensen, he published a Danish translation of Charles Darwin’s "The Voyage of the Beagle"; Rejse om Jorden. From 1879 to 1909, he was director of the physiological department at Carlsberg Laboratory. There, he discovered that yeast was composed of different kinds of fungi and that the yeast culture could be cultivated. He isolated a pure cell of yeast, and after combining it with a sugary solution, produced more yeast than was in a yeast bank. It was known as Saccharomyces carlsbergensis, and is used in lager beers. Hansen was the taxonomic authority of the fungal genus Anixiopsis (1897) from the family Onygenaceae.


In order to follow the development of the microorganisms under the microscope Hansen constructed a special “moist chamber” (1881). Through further experiments he subsequently succeeded in proving the life cycle of other saccharomycete species. He also proved that there were several different varieties and races of saccharomycete species, and through fermentation experiments he found that their effect on beer was very different. The common yeast of the old Carlsberg brewery, “Carlsberg bottom yeast I,” which J. C. Jacobsen had obtained at Munich in 1845, produced excellent beer, but the admixture of “wild” yeast types had spoiled it. Although skeptical, Jacobsen allowed Hansen to use his cultured pure strains of yeast to brew experimentally on a large scale—and 12 November 1883 became a red-letter day in the history of brewing. The new beer was excellent. 


He left a large fortune for a foundation to bear his name, the income to be used for prizes for biological papers; the prizes were to be awarded by an international committee. He also left a fine library on art and the history of the natural sciences. Hansen was an honorary member of learned societies all over the world and held honorary doctorates from the universities of Uppsala (1907) and Geneva (1909) and the Technische Hochschule of Vienna (1908).


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