Friedrich Miescher

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Johannes Friedrich Miescher
Friedrich Miescher.jpg
Born(1844-08-13)13 August 1844
Died26 August 1895 (1895-08-27) (aged 51)
EducationUniversity of Göttingen (M.D. 1868), University of Lepzig
Known forDiscovery of nucleic acids
SpouseMaria Anna Rüsch
Scientific career
InfluencesFelix Hoppe-Seyler

Johannes Friedrich Miescher (13 August 1844 – 26 August 1895) was a Swiss physician and biologist. He was the first scientist to isolate nucleic acid in 1869. He also identified protamine and made a number of other discoveries.

Miescher had isolated various phosphate-rich chemicals, which he called nuclein (now nucleic acids), from the nuclei of white blood cells in Felix Hoppe-Seyler's laboratory at the University of Tübingen, Germany,[1] paving the way for the identification of DNA as the carrier of inheritance. The significance of the discovery, first published in 1871, was not at first apparent, and Albrecht Kossel made the initial inquiries into its chemical structure. Later, Miescher raised the idea that the nucleic acids could be involved in heredity[2] and even posited that there might be something akin to an alphabet that might explain how variation is produced.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Friedrich Miescher came from a scientific family; his father and his uncle held the chair of anatomy at the University of Basel. As a boy, he was shy but intelligent. He had an interest in music as his father performed publicly. Miescher studied medicine at Basel. In the summer of 1865, he worked for the organic chemist Adolf Stecker at the University of Göttingen, but his studies were interrupted for the year when he became ill with typhoid fever, which left him hearing-impaired. He received his MD in 1868.[1]


Miescher felt that his partial deafness would be a disadvantage as a doctor, so he turned to physiological chemistry. He originally wanted to study lymphocytes, but was encouraged by Felix Hoppe-Seyler to study neutrophils. He was interested in studying the chemistry of the nucleus. Lymphocytes were difficult to obtain in sufficient numbers to study, while neutrophils were known to be one of the main and first components in pus and could be obtained from bandages at the nearby hospital. The problem was, however, washing the cells off the bandages without damaging them.[1]

Miescher devised different salt solutions, eventually producing one with sodium sulfate. The cells were filtered. Since centrifuges were not available at the time, the cells were allowed to settle to the bottom of a beaker. He then tried to isolate the nuclei free of cytoplasm. He subjected the purified nuclei to an alkaline extraction followed by acidification, resulting in the formation of a precipitate that Miescher called nuclein (now known as DNA).[4] He found that this contained phosphorus and nitrogen, but not sulfur. The discovery was so unlike anything else at the time that Hoppe-Seyler repeated all Miescher's research himself before publishing it in his journal. Miescher then went on to study physiology at Leipzig in the laboratory of Carl Ludwig for a year before being appointed professor of physiology.[1]

While analyzing the composition of salmon sperm, Miescher also discovered the alkaline substance protamine, which he published in 1874.[5][6] It later found use, as protamine sulfate, in the stabilization of insulin (NPH insulin) and also as a reversal agent for the anticoagulant medicine heparin.[7]

Miescher and his students researched much nucleic acid chemistry, but its function remained unknown. However, his discovery played an important part in the identification of nucleic acids as the carriers of inheritance. The importance of Miescher's discovery was not apparent until Albrecht Kossel (a German physiologist specializing in the physiological chemistry of the cell and its nucleus and of proteins) carried out research on the chemical structure of nuclein.[8]

Friedrich Miescher is also known for demonstrating that carbon dioxide concentrations in blood regulate breathing.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Miescher was married to Maria Anna Rüsch.[6] He died of tuberculosis in 1895 aged 51.


As of 2008, two laboratories have been named after Miescher:[1] The Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen and the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, founded in 1970 by Ciba-Geigy .[9]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Dahm, R (Jan 2008). "Discovering DNA: Friedrich Miescher and the early years of nucleic acid research". Human Genetics. 122 (6): 565–81. doi:10.1007/s00439-007-0433-0. ISSN 0340-6717. PMID 17901982. S2CID 915930.
  2. ^ Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Books, 2005, p. 500.
  3. ^ Lamm, Harman, Veigl,
  4. ^ Miescher, Friedrich (1871) "Ueber die chemische Zusammensetzung der Eiterzellen" (On the chemical composition of pus cells), Medicinisch-chemische Untersuchungen, 4 : 441–460. From p. 456: "Ich habe mich daher später mit meinen Versuchen an die ganzen Kerne gehalten, die Trennung der Körper, die ich einstweilen ohne weiteres Präjudiz als lösliches und unlösliches Nuclein bezeichnen will, einem günstigeren Material überlassend." ("Therefore, in my experiments I subsequently limited myself to the whole nucleus, leaving to a more favorable material the separation of the substances, that for the present, without further prejudice, I will designate as soluble and insoluble nuclear material ('Nuclein').")
  5. ^ Miescher, F (1874). "Die Spermaozoen einiger Wirbeltiere. Ein Beitrag zur Histochemie". Verhandlungen der naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel VI (in German). Basel. pp. 138–208.
  6. ^ a b Dahm, R (March 2010). "From discovering to understanding. Friedrich Miescher's attempts to uncover the function of DNA". EMBO Reports. 11 (3): 153–60. doi:10.1038/embor.2010.14. PMC 2838690. PMID 20168329.
  7. ^ Boer, C.; Meesters, M.I.; Veerhoek, D.; Vonk, A.B.A. (May 2018). "Anticoagulant and side-effects of protamine in cardiac surgery: a narrative review". British Journal of Anaesthesia. 120 (5): 914–927. doi:10.1016/j.bja.2018.01.023. PMID 29661409. S2CID 4945517.
  8. ^ Jones, Mary Ellen (September 1953). "Albrecht Kossel, A Biographical Sketch". Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 26 (1): 80–97. PMC 2599350. PMID 13103145.
  9. ^ The Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research. "The Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research". Retrieved 2021-10-12.


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