Richard Altmann

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Richard Altmann (12 March 1852 – 8 December 1900) was a German pathologist and histologist from Deutsch Eylau in the Province of Prussia.

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 from a nervous disorder.

He improved fixation methods, for instance, his solution of potassium dichromate and osmium textroxide.[1] 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.[1][2] 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").[3] His explanation drew much skepticism and harsh criticism.[4] Altmann's granules are now believed to be mitochondria.[5][6]

He is credited with coining the term "nucleic acid", replacing Friedrich Miescher's term "nuclein" when it was demonstrated that nuclein was acidic.


  • 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.


  1. ^ a b William Bechtel, Discovering Cell Mechanisms: The Creation of Modern Cell Biology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp 80–83.
  2. ^ Erik Nordenskiöld, The History of Biology (New York: Knopf, 1935), pp 538–39.
  3. ^ O'Rourke B (2010). "From bioblasts to mitochondria: ever expanding roles of mitochondria in cell physiology". Frontiers in Physiology 1: 7. doi:10.3389/fphys.2010.00007. PMC 3059936. PMID 21423350. 
  4. ^ Edmund B Wilson, The Cell in Development and Inheritance, 2nd edn (New York: Macmillan Co, 1900), pp 289–91.
  5. ^ "Altmann's granules", Merriam–Webster, Accessed online: 30 Aug 2013.
  6. ^ Jan Sapp, "Mitochondria and their host", in W F Martin & M Müller, eds, Origin of Mitochondria and Hydrogenosomes (Heidelberg: Springer, 2007), pp 57–59.