Johannes Schmidt (biologist)

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Ernst Johannes Schmidt (January 2, 1877 – February 21, 1933) was a Danish biologist credited with discovering in 1920 that eels migrate to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Before this people in North America and Europe had wondered why there were no baby eels where they were fishing.

Schmidt began his studies of natural history at the University of Copenhagen under professor of botany Eugen Warming and obtained an MS degree in 1898. He obtained a grant from the Carlsberg Foundation to study the flora of the coastal areas of Ko Chang in then Siam, including both mangrove trees and microalgae. He made his doctoral thesis on shoot architecture of mangrove trees and Eugen Warming served as faculty opponent in October 1903.

Schmidt then more or less switched to marine zoology, working 1902–1909 part-time for the Botanical Institute of the University of Copenhagen, part-time for the Danish Commission for Investigation of the Sea. In 1909, he was made head of the department of physiology at the Carlsberg Laboratory, a post he held until his early death.

Schmidt worked in parallel on phycology, where he described the genus Richelia (filamentous heterocyst-forming Cyanobacteria dwelling inside diatoms), on plant physiology and genetics, especially of hops, and on large-scale oceanography and ichtyology. In 1928–1930, he led the Dana Expedition, funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, being a two-year voyage around the world's oceans. The discovery of the spawning place of the eel was one of the results of this expedition.

A peculiar incident is worthy of notice: a paper on the life-history of the eel, published 1912 in Germany,[1] had first been sent to London to be published by the Royal Society, but was refused with a note that Grassi's work on the subject sufficed. This constitutes a clear example of peer review failure.[2] Ten years later, Schmidt's work on the spawning place of the eel was published by the Royal Society[3] and even later he was awarded the Darwin Medal.

Johannes Schmidt was married (since 1903) to Ingeborg Kühle, daughter of the chief director of the Old Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen.

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