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Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira

Print version ISSN 0100-736XOn-line version ISSN 1678-5150

Pesq. Vet. Bras. vol.39 no.1 Rio de Janeiro Jan. 2019

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1678-5150-pvb-6293 

LIVESTOCK DISEASES

Topic of General Interest

Jürgen Döbereiner: a life dedicated to science

Iveraldo S. Dutra2  * 
http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0566-7595

Axel Colling3 

David Driemeier4 

Marilene F. Brito5 

Daniel G. Ubiali5 
http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8320-4567

Ana Lucia Schild6 
http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2470-4785

Franklin Riet-Correa7 
http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5738-7785

Claudio S.L. Barros8 

2 Departamento de Apoio, Produção e Saúde Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária, Universidade Estadual Paulista “Julio de Mesquita Filho” (Unesp), Rua Clóvis Pestana 793, Jardim Dona Amélia, Araçatuba, SP 16050-680, Brazil.

3 Australian Animal Health Laboratory, CSIRO, 5 Portarlington Road, 3219 Newcomb, Victoria, Australia.

4 Setor de Patologia Veterinária, Faculdade de Veterinária, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Av. Bento Gonçalves 9090, Prédio 42505, Porto Alegre, RS 91540-000, Brazil.

5 Setor de Anatomia Patológica, Departamento de Epidemiologia e Saúde Pública, Instituto de Veterinária, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ), Seropédica, RJ 23890-000, Brazil.

6 Laboratório Regional de Diagnóstico, Faculdade de Veterinária, Universidade Federal de Pelotas (UFPel), Campus Capão do Leão s/n, Capão do Leão, RS 96160-000, Brazil.

7 Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agropecuaria (INIA), Estación Experimental INIA La Estanzuela, Ruta 50 Km 11, Colonia del Sacramento, Colonia, Uruguay.

8 Laboratório de Patologia Animal, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS), Av. Senador Felinto Müller 2443, Campo Grande, MS 79070-900, Brazil.

ABSTRACT:

Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner was born in Germany, on the 1st of November 1923, and lived in Brazil for 68 years during which time he developed a range of scientific projects in veterinary pathology and related disciplines. His main interests were the identification of new poisonous plants and mineral deficiencies and the causes of “cara inchada” (“swollen face” a periodontal disease) and botulism in livestock. This research has resulted in the improved health and saving of hundreds of thousands of animals, mainly cattle, annually, and is consequently of enormous economic value to the country. This contribution remains largely under appreciated. He was also involved in organizing diagnostic methods for identifying infectious diseases such as African swine fever and glanders in horses. One of his other major achievements has been the foundation and editing of specialized scientific journals for the documentation of veterinary science research results. At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, he and colleagues from the Institute for Animal Biology (IBA) were struggling to find a national scientific journal where research results from veterinary medicine could be published with practical application to the Brazilian reality. In consequence, the team founded “Arquivos do Instituto de Biologia Animal” and published three volumes (1959-1961). He then founded and edited “Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira” (The Brazilian Journal of Agricultural Research”) that included a veterinary section. A series of veterinary volumes were published (1966-1976). Finally, in 1978 he helped create the Brazilian College of Veterinary Pathology (CBPA) that published “Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira” (The Brazilian Journal of Veterinary Research) from 1981. The main goal was to communicate the most relevant disease problems of Brazilian livestock, in particular pathology and related subjects such as epidemiology, clinical study series and laboratory diagnosis to field veterinarians and academics. Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner was president of CBPA (1978-2018) and chief editor of “Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira” (1981-2018). He passed away on the 16th of October, 2018, at the age of 94 at his home in Seropédica/RJ, Brazil.

INDEX TERMS: Science; livestock diseases; diagnosis; veterinary pathology; poisonous plants; mineral deficiencies; periodontal disease; botulism

Jürgen Döbereiner (Fig.1) was born in Königsberg, former capital of East Prussia, Germany, 1st November 1923 (today Kaliningrad, Russia). From 1935 he went to secondary school in Berlin and graduated from high school in 1942. Being an excellent skier he served in the Austrian mountain artillery from 1942 to 1945 and was promoted to lieutenant during World War II.

Fig.1. Jürgen Döbereiner (1923-2018), German-born, Brazilian citizen graduated as Veterinarian from “Universidade Federal Rural de Rio de Janeiro” (1954); scientific researcher and founder of the journal “Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira”. Photo Jeann Leal, October 2018. 

After the war he studied veterinary medicine at the University of Munich, from 1947 to 1950. In March 1950 as a young student Jürgen married Johanna Kubelka, who just had obtained her degree in Agricultural Science. Johanna’s family belonged to the Sudeten German speaking population of Czechoslovakia, who suffered from being displaced after the Second World War. In the same year Jürgen accepted an invitation from his father in law, Dr. Paul Kubelka (who had emigrated to Brazil in 1948) to come to Rio de Janeiro. After transferring from the University of Munich to the Veterinary School of the Rural University of Brazil at Km 47 of the old Rio-Sao Paulo road in 1951, Jürgen met Carlos Hubinger Tokarnia and they began their close, productive and long lasting professional collaboration. Jürgen graduated from the National Veterinary School (today Universidade Federal Rural de Rio de Janeiro, UFRRJ) in 1954. Jürgen was registered as number 52 in the Regional Council of Veterinary Medicine of the state of Rio de Janeiro (CRMV/RJ).

From 1955 to 1976, he worked as a researcher at the Ministry of Agriculture in the “Seção de Anatomia Patológica” of the “Institute of Animal Biology” (IBA) at “Km 47” in Seropédica/RJ. From 1976 to 2010, he worked for the recently founded Embrapa (Brazilian Agency for Agriculture Research), which absorbed the IBA. Recently the collection of the former “Seção de Anatomia Patológica” was incorporated into the “Setor de Anatomia Patológica (SAP)” of the “Instituto de Veterinária” of UFRRJ.

During the late 1950s, Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner and his colleagues Carlos Tokarnia, Camilo Canella and Jerome Langenegger became research pioneers in Brazilian veterinary medicine. Tokarnia et al. (1959) contributed significantly to the de-mystification of a disease called “mal dos chifres”, a purulent sinusitis idiosyncratically inflicted on bovines when cutting horns too deep. During field visits, clinical examinations and post mortems were performed on bovines from 17 farms in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará, Piauí, and Maranhão (Fig.2). They concluded that the popular term “mal dos chifres” did not describe a specific disease or a group of diseases but rather clinical signs and lesions of diverse causes. At the same time Döbereiner & Tokarnia (1959a) described an outbreak of malignant catarrhal fever (=coryza gangrenosa) in cattle in the state of Rio Grande do Norte and an outbreak of glanders in equines in the state of Rio de Janeiro (Langenegger et al. 1960).

Fig.2. Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner and Carlos Tokarnia travelled over 9,000 km through the Northeast region of Brazil during the 1950s to investigate the condition popularly known as “mal dos chifres”. 

From 1959 to 1961 he was invited to be the chief editor of Arquivos do Instituto de Biologia Animal by the director of IBA.

From 1961 to 1963 Jürgen obtained his Master of Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA supported by a grant from the Rockefeller foundation. His dissertation was on the poisoning of bovines with “samambaia” braken fern plant, Pteridium aquilinum (=P. arachnoideum), which causes lesions in the bladder (Döbereiner et al. 1966). Further manuscripts were published later that described neoplastic lesions in the bladder and squamous cell carcinoma in the superior digestive tract of bovines consuming samambaia (Döbereiner et al. 1967, Tokarnia et al. 1969).

He founded the journal Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira and was chief editor 1966-1976 on the invitation of the Director General of the National Department of Research and Experimental Agriculture (DNPEA). Today this journal is published by Embrapa.

After returning from the USA he was offered a position at UFRRJ but preferred the better opportunity to work at IBA, the former Brazilian reference laboratory for animal health.

During the late 1960s until the mid 1990s he undertook 52 scientific expeditions (Fig.3) to 12 Brazilian states, in particular to the Midwest, North and Southeast. Jürgen documented all his trips in his travel diary (Döbereiner 2005). He was always accompanied by his necropsy box (Fig.4) and meticulously took notes of any relevant findings related to animal health problems, post mortems, farmers and observations from veterinarians and other professionals (Fig.5). Jürgen and collaborators worked on Solanum malacoxylon (=S. glaucophyllum), a plant that was associated with a disease called “Espichamento” after being consumed by bovines, in particular in the Brazilian Pantanal (Döbereiner et al. 1971, Tokarnia & Döbereiner 1974). As an example that illustrates Jürgen’s early endeavour to foster international collaboration and scientific networking, he extended his research on the pathological aspects and pathogenesis of poisoning with S. glaucophyllum at the Royal Veterinary College, London, UK, 1970-1971 supported by a Queen’s scholarship (Sansom et al. 1971, Döbereiner & Dämmrich 1974, Döbereiner et al. 1975a, 1977, Dämmrich et al. 1975, Done et al. 1976a, 1976b).

Fig.3. Jürgen Döbereiner travelling in Fazenda Recreio, Marília/SP, to investigate about infectious bovine periodontitis. October 1987. 

Fig.4. Dr. Jürgen sitting on a necropsy box after finishing a post mortem and taking specimens for diagnostic examination and research of bovine diseases. September 1975. 

Fig.5. Notes from Jürgen’s research diary, Corumbá/MS, 1970. 

In recognition of his research in Brazil he received the title Doctor Honoris Causa from the Justus-Liebig-Universitaet Giessen, Germany as part of their 200 years anniversary of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in 1977.

He lectured courses for post-graduates at Master and PhD level at UFRRJ and University of Sao Paulo (USP) for many years.

In 1978 Tokarnia, Jürgen and others collaborated on the diagnosis of African Swine Fever (ASF) during an outbreak in Paracambi/RJ, close to IBA, which resulted in a swift containment and eradication of the epidemic in Brazil. Later, it was shown that a series of wrong interpretations of serological test results, suggested ASF was present in several Brazilian States (Tokarnia et al. 2004, Viana 2008).

From 1969 his research focused on the etiology, pathogenesis and epidemiology of a disease generally known as “swollen face of bovines” (Döbereiner et al. 1974). Supported by grants from the National Research Council (CNPq) and German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) he undertook studies to explain this unusual periodontitis in collaboration with the University of Giessen and Berlin from 1984 to 1989. In particular the collaboration with Prof. Dr. Hans Blobel, Director of the Institute for Bacteriology and Immunology of the Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, resulted in the discovery of bacterial involvement in the etiology and pathogenesis of the disease. Some epidemiological aspects of the disease, such as the improvement of calves after being moved to healthy, balanced soils, were observed (Döbereiner et al. 1975b, 1976). Studies on bacterial involvement showed the relevance of specific genera such as Treponema, Porphyromonas and Prevotella (=Bacteroides melaninogenicus) (Blobel et al. 1984, 1987, Botteon et al. 1993, Dutra et al. 2000, Döbereiner et al. 2004, Borsanelli et al. 2015a, 2015b). Subsequently a series of experiments provided evidence that “swollen face” was a multifactorial, bacterial disease rather than a specific mineral deficiency (Döbereiner et al. 1990, Moraes et al. 1999). An important diet-related factor for “swollen face” to occur is a disturbed balance of bacteria in the soil following forest clearing, which facilitates the production of in situ antibiotics. These have a direct or indirect impact on the buccal microbiotic flora (Döbereiner et al. 1987, 2000, Dutra et al. 1993a, Kopp et al. 1996, Schmitt et al. 1996, Döbereiner & Dämmrich 1997, Grassmann et al. 1997). Results further contributed to the prophylaxis (Döbereiner et al. 1990) and control (Rosa et al. 1985, Tims et al. 1992) of the disease. In addition to the scientific advances, collaboration facilitated the development of a new generation of scientists from Brazil and Germany (Dutra et al. 1993a, Kopp et al. 1996, Schmitt et al. 1996, Grassmann et al. 1997).

Döbereiner was also co-author of two books titled: Plantas Tóxicas da Amazônia a Bovinos e Outros Herbívoros (Tokarnia et al. 1979, 2007) and Plantas Tóxicas do Brasil para Animais de Produção (Tokarnia et al. 2000a, 2012) and co-author of a book entitled: “Deficiências Minerais em Animais de Produção” (Tokarnia et al. 2010). The diagnosis and systematic study of poisoning plants for ruminants, carried with Tokarnia, showed the importance of plant poisoning in Brazil and allowed the scientific advance on measures of control and prophylaxis. Using data from diagnostic laboratories from different regions in Brazil, Pessoa et al. (2013) calculated the loss of livestock due to the ingestion of poisonous plants and estimated the following annual losses: 820,761 to 1,755,763 cattle, 399,800 to 445,309 sheep, 52,675 to 63,292 goats and 38,559 horses. In April 2008, Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner talked about poisonous plants when he was being filmed (Fig.6). The picture shows him on his smallholding “Porangaba”, near Itaguaí/RJ, next to Palicourea marcgravii, a poisonous plant causing sudden death in cattle, known as “cafezinho”, or “erva-de-rato”. This specimen had originally been planted and raised by Prof. Carlos Tokarnia in his house and both had used it to teach their students about the morphology and characteristic scent of P. marcgravii during practical sessions on poisonous plants. This is the most important poisonous plant in the country and is thought to be responsible for something like 90% of sudden death in the Brazilian herd. It has a wide geographic distribution but is not found in the South or in the Pantanal. It is found in the state of Rio de Janeiro in the region above of Serra das Araras (altitude above 550 meters). It is not found at lower altitudes, for example, in the Baixada Fluminense (Tokarnia et al. 2012).

Fig.6. Jürgen Döbereiner telling stories about his research at his resort “Porangaba”, Itaguaí/RJ. Beside him a specimen of Palicourea marcgravii, an important poisonous plant for Brazilian livestock. April 2018. 

Thiloa glaucocarpa (=Combretum glaucocarpum), also known as “sipaúba” or “vaqueta”, causes outbreak of poisoning shortly after the beginning of the rainy season in the Northern Caatinga. Bovines develop clinical signs after 5-8 days and get sick 10-25 days after the first rainfall. T. glaucocarpa poisoning happen during or soon after this initial fast growth. After that period there are other plants available for consumption. (Tokarnia et al. 1981, 1994, 2002, 2012). This research on Palicourea marcgravii (Döbereiner & Tokarnia 1959b) and T. glaucocarpa (Tokarnia et al. 1981, 1994) illustrate the team’s pioneering research to discover the many poisonous plants affecting livestock.

After the diagnosis of botulism in the “agreste” of Piauí (Tokarnia et al. 1970), Dr. Döbereiner and colleagues undertook a variety of epidemiological investigations into epizootic botulism in diverse regions of Brazil (Langenegger & Döbereiner 1988, Döbereiner et al. 1992, Dutra et al. 2001, 2005). The team described the connection between outbreaks of botulism and osteophagy, the eating of the bones of dead cattle in regions with very low soil phosphate contents. The role of water and food as vectors provided crucial information to bridge the gap between research and extension and has turned Brazil into the largest global market for anti-botulism vaccines.

According to Dr. Döbereiner the historic experiences with botulism as well as other public health issues revealed the need to develop an integrated animal health system for the country. This should be based on combining practical information from field veterinarians with on and off farm laboratory diagnostics integrated by modern information technology. Diverse discussions about the etiology of the “mysterious disease” or “fallen cow disease”, although legitimate delayed the extension of proper diagnosis, control and prevention which has led to the unnecessary loss of millions of bovines during many decades (Tokarnia et al. 2010).

In the 1990s, when Dr. Döbereiner was looking for a diagnostic test for botulism with good sensitivity and specificity, he was involved in an international collaboration with Embrapa, the Department of Preventive Veterinary Medicine of the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Science (Unesp/Jaboticabal) and Dr. Hans-Erich Weiss, a veterinarian from a diagnostic institute in Heidelberg, Germany. They adapted the Complement Fixation Test for the diagnosis of botulism. The scientific impact of their achievements led to a breakthrough for consolidating modern diagnosis and the resulting control of the disease in Brazil (Dutra et al. 1993b, Menegucci et al. 1998, Silva et al. 1998, Souza et al. 2006, Curci et al. 2007).

Research into mineral deficiencies had a breakthrough with the investigation of an outbreak of enzootic ataxia of ovines in Piauí state (Döbereiner et al. 1966). Evaluation of a series of results demonstrated the importance of field veterinarians with experience in the diagnosis of animal disease based on clinical and pathological findings and confirmatory testing by analysis of minerals in animal tissues (Tokarnia et al. 1988, 1999, Pilati et al. 1996, Moraes et al. 1999). The authors further provided evidence that increased levels of minerals in the diet, mainly phosphorus as well as mineral deficiencies of specific elements such as phosphorus, sodium, copper and cobalt, are the main reasons for economic losses (Tokarnia et al. 2000b, 2012, Malafaia et al. 2014).

From undergraduate level and throughout many years of his research career, Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner was supported by grants from CNPq. He published 174 papers in national and international science journals and supervised many postgraduates.

From 2000 to 2004 he was president of the Brazilian Association of Scientific Editors (ABEC) during two consecutive periods (2000-2001 and 2002-2003) and collaborated tirelessly for the growth of the organization.

Dr. Jürgen together with other colleagues (Carlos Hubinger Tokarnia, Severo Sales de Barros, Jerome Langenegger, Hugo Edson Barbosa de Rezende, Rubens Pinto Melo and Laerte Grisi) founded the Brazilian College of Animal Pathology (CBPA) with the goals of promoting the importance of Veterinary Medicine and having a national scientific journal of veterinary medicine. Dr. Jürgen was president of CBPA from 1978 to 2018.

In 1981, CBPA published the first volume of the journal Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira. The main objective of this scientific journal was to communicate to the public, in particular to field veterinarians and academics the main health problems of livestock in Brazil, in particular pathology and related subjects such as epidemiology, clinical findings and laboratory diagnosis. The journal was edited monthly from 2007 and included additional topics such as Small Animals, Wildlife Medicine and Animal Morphophysiology. From the first edition Pesq. Vet. Bras. was indexed by the prestigious international database, Thomson Reuters, and recently as Qualis A2 by CAPES. Another goal of Dr. Jürgen was to extend the indexation of Pesq. Vet. Bras. to the global PubMed database. CBPA has signed the terms for cooperation with UFFRJ and the University of Brasilia (UnB) to improve publication and visibility of the journal. From 2019 onwards, all manuscripts will be published in English with a summary in Portuguese. A new service is now available that allows the publishing of high quality images similar to other international scientific journals in the field of veterinary pathology. Jürgen worried about the future of the journal and engaged in many philosophic discussions to encourage young junior academics to carry his ideas and journal forward (Fig.7).

Fig.7. Jürgen Döbereiner with Daniel Guimarães Ubiali, October 10, 2018. While they were discussing the January 2019 edition for the “Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira” journal, there was a fall in electric energy and they kept on working by the light of a candle! Photo Jeann Leal, October 2018. 

Jürgen lived on the University Campus, Km 47 (Fig.8), also known as “Ecology” and lived in the same house from 1952-2018. Together with Johanna (his wife) and their three children Maria Luisa, Christian and Lorenz the family enjoyed the proximity between their home and IBA.

Fig.8. Jürgen Döbereiner at his residence, Seropédica/RJ, Km 47. Photo Jeann Leal, October 2018. 

It is worthwhile mentioning that Dr. Döbereiner enjoyed to relax and recover during weekends at his smallholding “Sítio Porangaba”, located in the maritime mountains of the Mata Atlântica, near Itaguaí/RJ. He was a founding member and president of the Association of Environmental Heritage (APN) and his Sítio became one of the first Environmental Reserves for Environmental Heritage (RPPN) in the state of Rio de Janeiro. These examples demonstrate his sensibility and early awareness for the need to conserve and promote biodiversity.

Together with journalist Kristina Michahelles, Jürgen recently concluded the publication of a biography of his wife titled: “Hanne, Johanna Döbereiner: a life dedicated to science” (Michahelles 2018).

In 2010 after 55 years of service, Dr. Jürgen retired at the age of 86. But he continued as unpaid general editor of the Pesq. Vet. Bras. from 1981 until the last day of his life.

In memory of his philosophy he left a document entitled: “Carta de Porangaba”, where together with his collaborators he had developed a modern approach to assist and improve the pubic animal health service in Brazil, in particular the field of veterinary science through an Integrated Animal Health System (SISA).

Jürgen loved to talk about the adventures of his multiple field trips and there is plenty of cinematographic material available, which will be edited to produce a documentary titled: Stories on Animal Health Research in Brazil.

Dr. Jürgen Döbereiner passed away suddenly and peacefully on the 16th of October 2018 at the age of 94 in his house.

Acknowledgments

We thank Prof. Jeann Leal de Araújo for the outstanding quality and artistic images.

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Received: December 03, 2018; Accepted: December 17, 2018

*Corresponding author: iveraldo.dutra@unesp.br

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