Altmann studied medicine in Greifswald, Königsberg, Marburg, and Giessen, obtaining a doctorate at the University of Giessen in 1877. He then worked as a prosector at Leipzig, and in 1887 became an anatomy professor (extraordinary). He died in Hubertusburg in 1900 through a nervous disorder.
He improved fixation methods, for instance, his solution of potassium dichromate and osmium textroxide. Using that along with a new staining technique of applying acid-fuchsin contrasted by picric acid amid delicate heating, he observed filaments in the nearly all cell types, developed from granules. He named the granules "bioblasts", and explained them as the elementary living units, having metabolic and genetic autonomy, in his 1890 book Die Elementarorganismen (The Elementary Organism). His explanation drew much skepticism and harsh criticism. Altmann's granules are now believed to be mitochondria.
- William Bechtel, Discovering Cell Mechanisms: The Creation of Modern Cell Biology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp 80–83.
- Erik Nordenskiöld, The History of Biology (New York: Knopf, 1935), pp 538–39.
- Brian O'Rourke, "From bioblasts to mitochondria: Ever expanding roles of mitochondria in cell physiology", Frontiers in Physiology, 2010 Jun 15;1:7.
- Edmund B Wilson, The Cell in Development and Inheritance, 2nd edn (New York: Macmillan Co, 1900), pp 289–91.
- "Altmann's granules", Merriam–Webster, Accessed online: 30 Aug 2013.
- Jan Sapp, "Mitochondria and their host", in W F Martin & M Müller, eds, Origin of Mitochondria and Hydrogenosomes (Heidelberg: Springer, 2007), pp 57–59.
- Über Nucleinsäuren. Archiv für Anatomie und Physiologie. Physiologische Abteilung. Leipzig, 1889.
- Zur Geschichte der Zelltheorien ("The History of Cell Theories") . Ein Vortrag. Leipzig, 1889.
- Die Elementarorganismen, 1890.
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