Real-Life Mad Scientists: Ivanov & Ffirth

Sometimes animals are crossbred with one another to create stronger species, as seen in the case of dog breeding. And then, there are experiments regarding hybrids that cross the line. In this article, you will learn of one such scientist who pushed the boundaries of science, as well as a scientist who had an obsession with testing an infectious disease on himself.

Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov

Born close to the late 1800s, Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was a Russian scientist who lived during the Stalinist era. He chose to conduct his unethical experiments on animals by using artificial insemination to create a host of hybrids. To his credit, he produced Zeedonks (a cross between a zebra and donkey), Zubrons (a combination of the now extinct European bison and cow), as well as an antelope-cow, a mouse-rat, a mouse-guinea pig, and a guinea pig-rabbit.

Ivanov started to cross the line when he started experiments with humans and apes. In an experimental station set up in French Guinea, the scientist went about inseminating female chimpanzees with human sperm in hopes of generating a pregnancy. Luckily, this did not occur.
He truly crossed the line when he proposed inseminating human females with sperm from an orangutan. The French colonial government declined to allow such experiments. What Ivanov accomplished was toying with the limits of interfertility. Today, scientists use direct genetic manipulation and cloning to accomplish some of the things that Ivanov was attempting to do.

Stubbins Ffirth

In the 1800s, Stubbins Ffirth was a doctor in training that worked in Philadelphia. He believed that yellow fever was not an infectious disease, and decided that it was OK to test it out on himself. First he poured infected vomit onto open wounds , cutting his arm and smearing on the vomit. He poured the vomit into his eyeballs. He fried the vomit and inhaled the fumes, and even went as far as to drink the vomit. He went on to test his theory by using infected blood, saliva, and urine.

He did not become sick, but not because yellow fever was not infectious. Because he did not contract yellow fever, Ffirth thought that his hypothesis was correct. However, an injection directly into the bloodstream of the disease was needed for it to pass, which is what a mosquito does went it bites one of its victims. To make matters worse for Ffirth’s endeavors, it was later proven that the samples that he used for experiment were no longer contagious and came from patients who were in the late stages of the disease.

Ffirth believed that yellow fever cases dropped in the wintertime and felt that the reasoning behind it was due to the heat and stresses that come in the summer months. It was a fact that the disease was significantly widespread in the summer, but not for the reasons that Ffirth gave. 60 years later, Carlos Finlay (a Cuban scientist) would highlight the link between mosquitoes and the spread of yellow fever.