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In 1860, chemist Louis Pasteur is scorned by most doctors because of his theory that germs cause disease. When a doctor is killed by the husband of one of his patients who died of puerperal fever, because the husband read Pasteur's pamphlet advocating the sterilization of instruments, Pasteur is ordered to stop publishing. Ten years later, there is an epidemic of anthrax in France which is decimating the livestock needed to pay war reparations to Prussia. Only one area has no problem with the disease. Dr. Radisse and his assistant, Dr. Jean Martel, investigate and learn that Pasteur has been inoculating the district's sheep for free. Although Martel is curious and stays behind to study with Pasteur, Radisse is skeptical. He believes that for some reason the soil in the area is free of the disease, and to prove his theory he imports sheep. Pasteur tries to stop him, and another doctor proposes that Pasteur inoculate half the sheep to see if his vaccine is really effective. At the end of the test, all the inoculated sheep are alive while the uninoculated ones are dead. After watching a villager die from rabies, Pasteur begins work on a cure for the disease. He has no luck until Dr. Charbonnet injects himself with rabies virus to prove it cannot cause the illness. When he does not become ill, Pasteur realizes that the virus loses its virulence over time and conceives the idea of injecting increasing amounts of rabies virus in order to build resistance. He reluctantly experiments on a small boy bitten by a rabid dog. In the meantime, Pasteur's daughter Annette, who has married Martel, is about to give birth. The only doctor available to attend her is Pasteur's old enemy Charbonnet. Pasteur insists that he use sterile means to deliver the child, and Charbonnet agrees if Pasteur will sign a letter testifying that his studies are worthless in light of the fact that Charbonnet did not contract rabies. To save his daughter, Pasteur agrees. When the bitten child recovers, however, Charbonnet is humbled and admits Pasteur's genius. After suffering a stroke, Pasteur is at long last honored for his achievements on his seventieth birthday.