Image: Matthias Schleiden

Matthias Jakob Schleiden (1804-81)

Matthias Jakob Schleiden (1804-81), German botanist, who, with the German physiologist Theodor Schwann, formulated the cell theory. Born in Hamburg and educated in law at Heidelberg, Schleiden left law practice to study botany, which he then taught at the University of Jena from 1839 to 1862. A man of disputatious nature, he scorned the botanists of his day who limited themselves to merely naming and describing plants. Schleiden investigated plants microscopically and conceived that plants were made up of recognizable units, or cells. Plant growth, he stated in 1837, came about through the production of new cells, which, he speculated, were propagated from the nuclei of old cells. Although later discoveries proved him wrong about the role of the nucleus in mitosis, or cell division, his conception of the cell as the common structural unit of plants had the profound effect of shifting scientific attention to living processes as they happened on the cellular levela change that initiated the field of embryology. A year after Schleiden published his cell theory on plants, his friend Schwann extended it to animals, thereby bringing botany and zoology together under one unifying theory.

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