Wilhelm Hofmeister

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Wilhelm Hofmeister
Wilhelm Hofmeister (HeidICON 28826) (cropped).jpg
Born(1824-05-18)18 May 1824
Died12 January 1877(1877-01-12) (aged 52)
Nationality Germany
Alma maternone
Known fordiscovering the alternation of generations in plants
Scientific career
Fieldsbotany, biology
InstitutionsUniversity of Heidelberg, University of Tübingen
Doctoral advisornone

Wilhelm Friedrich Benedikt Hofmeister (18 May 1824 – 12 January 1877) was a German biologist and botanist. He "stands as one of the true giants in the history of biology and belongs in the same pantheon as Darwin and Mendel."[1] He was largely self-taught.


Hofmeister was the son of a book and music publisher and seller in Leipzig. He left school at the age of 15 and was apprenticed in a bookshop in Hamburg by an acquaintance of his father. He did most of his research in his free-time, largely from four to six in the morning before going to work.[2] Nevertheless, he was only 27 when he published his ground-breaking monograph on the alternation of generations in plants. Not until 1863 was he employed as a professor, at the University of Heidelberg. In 1872, he moved to the University of Tübingen.[3][4][5]

Hofmeister is widely credited with discovery of alternation of generations as a general principle in plant life. His proposal that alternation between a spore-bearing generation (sporophyte) and a gamete-bearing generation (gametophyte) constituted a unifying theory of plant evolution that was published in 1851, eight years before Darwin's On the Origin of Species.[6] After Darwin's book was published, Hofmeister became a leading proponent of Darwinism.[7]

Hofmeister was an early student of the genetics in plants. He is cited for the first studies of plant embryology. According to C. D. Darlington, Hofmeister had observed what would later be called chromosomes in a dividing cell nucleus as early as 1848. He left detailed sketches which are reproduced in Darlington's The Facts of Life, though he was not the first to observe them.

In 1869, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Hofmeister's contribution to biology is still far from widely acknowledged.[1] This may partly be attributed to the fact that only one of his works was translated from German to English. However, Kaplan & Cooke[1] conclude that "his reputation became eclipsed because he was so far ahead of his contemporaries that no one could understand or appreciate his work". Study of Hofmeister's work is also limited because it is published in German, though translations for some papers have been made.[8][9][10][11]

Selected works[edit]

  • Untersuchungen des Vorgangs bei der Befruchtung der Oenothereen. In: Botanische Zeitung, vol. 5, 1847, cols. 785–792 (= in: No. 45, 5 November 1847).
  • Die Entstehung des Embryo der Phanerogamen. Eine Reihe mikroskopischer Untersuchungen. Verlag F. Hofmeister, Leipzig 1849.
  • Vergleichende Untersuchungen der Keimung, Entfaltung und Fruchtbildung höherer Kryptogamen (Moose, Farrn, Equisetaceen, Rhizocarpeen und Lycopodiaceen) und der Samenbildung der Coniferen. 179 pp., 1851, [2] (Reprint: Historiae Naturalis Classica 105. Cramer, Vaduz 1979). English translation (by F. Currey): On the germination, development and fructification of the higher Cryptogamia and on the fructification of the Coniferae. Ray Society, London, 1862.
  • Neue Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Embryobildung der Phanerogamen. 1. Dikotyledonen mit ursprünglich einzelligem, nur durch Zellentheilung wachsendem Endosperm. S. Hirzel, Leipzig, pp. 536–672. 1859.
  • Neue Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Embryobildung der Phanerogamen. 2. Monokotyledonen. S. Hirzel, Leipzig, pp. 632–760. 1861.
  • Die Lehre von der Pflanzenzelle. In: W. Hofmeister (ed.): Handbuch der Physiologischen Botanik I-1. W. Engelmann, Leipzig 1867.
  • Allgemeine Morphologie der Gewächse. In: W. Hofmeister (ed.): Handbuch der Physiologischen Botanik I-2. W. Engelmann, Leipzig 1868.


  1. ^ a b c Kaplan, Donald R; Cooke, Todd J (1996), "The genius of Wilhelm Hofmeister: the origin of causal-analytical research in plant development", American Journal of Botany, 83 (12): 1647–1660, doi:10.2307/2445841, JSTOR 2445841.
  2. ^ Goebel, K. von (1905) Wilhelm Hofmeister. The Plant World 8: 291-298.
  3. ^ *Larson, A H (1930), "WILHELM HOFMEISTER.", Plant Physiol. (published Oct 1930), 5 (4), pp. 612.2–616, doi:10.1104/pp.5.4.613, PMC 440249, PMID 16652687
  4. ^ Campbell, Douglas Houghton (1925), "THE CENTENARY OF WILHELM HOFMEISTER.", Science (published Aug 7, 1925), 62 (1597): 127–128, doi:10.1126/science.62.1597.127, PMID 17812840
  5. ^ Haberlandt, G. (1877). "Wilhelm Hofmeister". Österreichische Botanische Zeitschrift. 27: 113–117. doi:10.1007/BF01621478.
  6. ^ Box 9.1 in Keddy, P.A. (2007) Plants and Vegetation: Origins, Processes, Consequences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 680 p. ISBN 978-0-521-86480-0 [1]
  7. ^ Glick, Thomas F. (1988). The Comparative Reception of Darwinism. University of Chicago Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-226-29977-5
  8. ^ Witty M (2015). "Untersuchungen des Vorgangs bei der Befruchtung der Oenothereen"; a translation of Wilhelm Hofmeister's (1824-1877) 1847 paper on Fertilization in the Onagraceae (Evening Primrose family). Huntia 15(1):47-58.
  9. ^ Witty M (2015a). Pollen development, membranes and features of the nucleus in Tradescantia and related genera; a translation of Wilhelm Hofmeister's 1848a paper "Ueber die Entwicklung des Pollens". Huntia 15(2):75-86.
  10. ^ Witty M (2015b). Comparing Pollen Development in the Commelinaceae with those of the Passifloraceae; a translation of Wilhelm Hofmeister's 1848b paper "Ueber die Entwicklung des Pollens". Huntia 15(2):105-113.
  11. ^ Witty M (2015c). Development of Pollen in the Pinaceae and conclusions; a translation of Wilhelm Hofmeister's 1848c paper "Ueber die Entwicklung des Pollens". Huntia 15(2):215-221.
  12. ^ IPNI.  Hofmeist.

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