Skip to Content

A Simple Plan

E.L. Trudeau, the Rabbit Island Experiment, and Tuberculosis Treatment


Karen M. Aguirre
Department of Biology
Coastal Carolina University


This case study introduces students to Dr. E.L. Trudeau, who performed a seminal early experiment validating the germ theory of infection. Part I introduces Trudeau's Rabbit Island experiment, which is simple and easy for beginning or non-major students of biology or history of science to understand. Its results provided rational bases for the tuberculosis sanatorium movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. In Part I, students learn about tuberculosis and some of the rudiments of experimental design and graphic analysis.  Part II focuses on tuberculosis in its social context. Students explain a curve on a graph that shows the rise of tuberculosis mortality from the start of the industrial revolution and the great mass movement to the cities. The curve begins to abate as public sanitation and living conditions improve with the development of a middle class, and finally drops precipitously in the 1950s with the advent of effective anti-Mycobacterium tuberculosis antibiotics. Students also learn about the recent resurgence of tuberculosis with the AIDS epidemic, the emergence of drug-resistant strains, and the peculiar contribution of mass incarceration to the global crisis.  The case study was developed for non-major biology students; it could also be used with freshman biology majors as well as with history of science students.


  • Describe the history of tuberculosis and its importance in global health.
  • Discover that ideas that we take for granted, like the "germ theory of infection," were not always so well-subscribed.
  • Analyze experimental data presented in a survival graph.
  • Identify dependent and independent variables in a simple experiment.
  • Select a single independent variable, and design an experiment within a defined experimental system.
  • Construct survival curves.
  • Critique experimental designs.
  • Think of ways to put scientific information to use in formulation of public policy.
  • Explain the history of tuberculosis in its social context.
  • Draw parallels between historical experimental data and current real world data related to incarceration and tuberculosis.
  • Dissect a complex social problem into some of its individual causative components, and consider how these components might be addressed.


Tuberculosis; consumption; infectious disease; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; MTb; multiple-drug resistance; MDR-TB; acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; AIDS; opportunistic pathogens; germ theory; E.L. Trudeau; Robert Koch

Topical Areas

History of science, Scientific method, Social issues, Social justice issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Directed, Interrupted, Student Presentations



Subject Headings

Epidemiology  |   Medicine (General)  |   Microbiology  |   Public Health  |   Biology (General)  |   Science (General)  |   Sociology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.


Dr. Steve Rogers

St. Edmund Campion Catholic School
Birmingham, United Kingdom
I have just received this case study and it is like an early Christmas gift - perfectly timed for my Advanced Level Biology students (17-18 year-olds) who sit an exam in early January and TB is a key topic that they have to study. We will use the case study immediately - it is pitched at exactly the right level for my students. It is well-written and ticks all the right boxes. Many thanks.