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 tetroxide.[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][4] His explanation drew much skepticism and harsh criticism.[5] Altmann's granules are now believed to be mitochondria.[6][7]

He is credited with coining the term "nucleic acid" in 1889, replacing Friedrich Miescher's term "nuclein" when it was demonstrated that nuclein was acidic.[8]


  • 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. ^ Richard Altmann, Die Elementarorganismen und ihre Beziehungen zu den Zellen [The cellular organelles and their relations to cells], (Leipzig, Germany: Veit & Co., 1890), p. 125. From p. 125: "Da auch sonst mancherlei Umstände dafür sprechen, dass Mikroorganismen und Granula einander gleichwerthig sind und Elementarorganismen vorstellen, welche sich überall finden, wo lebendige Kräfte ausgelöst werden, so wollen wir sie mit dem gemeinschaftlichen Namen der Bioblasten bezeichnen." (Since in other ways as well various circumstances indicate that microörganisms and granula are equivalent to each other and represent elementary organisms, which are found wherever living forces are initiated, then we will designate them with the common name of "bioblasts".) Available on-line at: Deutsches Textarchiv, Berlin
  4. ^ 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 3059936Freely accessible. PMID 21423350. 
  5. ^ Edmund B Wilson, The Cell in Development and Inheritance, 2nd edn (New York: Macmillan Co, 1900), pp 289–91.
  6. ^ "Altmann's granules", Merriam–Webster, Accessed online: 30 Aug 2013.
  7. ^ Jan Sapp, "Mitochondria and their host", in W F Martin & M Müller, eds, Origin of Mitochondria and Hydrogenosomes (Heidelberg: Springer, 2007), pp 57–59.
  8. ^ Gribbin, John (2002). The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors. New York: Random House. p. 546. ISBN 0812967887.