Hugo von Mohl was a German botanist who was a major figure in the emerging fields of plant anatomy and physiology in the mid-19th century. His research on the plant cell, in particular the cell wall and cell division, paved the way for the development of the cell theory. His works helped in establishing botany as a distinct scientific field. Born into a socially respected family as the son of a statesman, he received a classical education. From an early age, he displayed a keen interest in botany and mineralogy, subjects which he pursued in his leisure time. He studied medicine on growing up, but his deep interest in botany led him to Munich where he collaborated with a group of distinguished botanists and began his research. His research covered diverse botanical fields, and he gained much attention for his description of the behavior of the protoplasm in cell division. Appointed a professor of botany in Tübingen, he spent his entire career there, immersing himself in research whenever he was not teaching. Over the course of his career he made many valuable contributions to botany, especially on the anatomy of the plant cell. He was the first to propose that new cells are formed by cell division and also provided the first clear explanation of the role of osmosis.
Childhood & Early Life
Hugo von Mohl was born on 8 April 1805, in Stuttgart, Germany. His father, Benjamin Ferdinand von Mohl, was a Württemberg statesman. Hugo had three brothers.
Hailing from a reputed family, he received a classical education at the gymnasium. He developed an early interest in botany and mineralogy which he pursued in his leisure time.
In 1823, he entered the University of Tübingen to study medicine and in 1827 presented a work on the structure and movement of the climbing plants. His doctoral thesis in 1828 was on the investigation of the constitution of the pores of plants.
He graduated with distinction in medicine following which he went to Munich where he became involved with a group of prominent botanists and immersed himself in research.
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In 1832, he was appointed professor of physiology at Bern, and in 1835, professor of botany at Tübingen. He remained at Tübingen for the rest of his career, focusing on teaching and research.
Totally dedicated to science, he loved conducting experiments in his laboratory. He possessed good manual skills and built his own optical apparatus, including microscopes.
Even though he made notable contributions to several areas of botany, he gained much acclaim for his work on plant cells and on the microscopic anatomy of plants.
During his research on plant cell he hypothesized that the nucleus of the cell was within the granular, colloidal material that made up the main substance of the cell. He named this substance “protoplasm”, a word that had been coined by the Czech physiologist Jan Evangelista Purkinje with reference to the embryonic material found in eggs.
In 1843, he became one of the founders of the ‘Botanische Zeitung’, one of the most famous periodicals of modern botany. He jointly edited the journal till his death.
Von Mohl proposed that new cells are formed by cell division after observing the phenomenon in the alga Conferva glomerata. He also suggested that the secondary walls of plant cells have a fibrous structure. His contributions to the understanding of the plant cell made him the true founder of the cell theory.
In the early 1850s he published a treatise ‘Die vegetabilische Zelle’, in which he detailed many of his studies, including examination of the structure of the cell and its derivatives and its generation by division or free formation.
He played a major role in the development of the Faculty of Sciences at Tübingen, the first of its kind in Germany. The faculty was inaugurated in 1863.
Hugo von Mohl made several significant contributions to the study of plant cell. He first described the behavior of the protoplasm in cell division and demonstrated the cellular origin of vessels and of fibrous cells. He also performed important anatomical work on the stems of dicotyledons and gymnosperms.
Awards & Achievements
He was made a corresponding member of the Institut de France in 1838.
The Order of the Crown of Württemberg was bestowed upon him in 1843, conferring upon him a title of nobility.
In 1850, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
He was elected foreign fellow of the Royal Society in 1868.
Personal Life & Legacy
Hugo von Mohl never married and dedicated his entire life to scientific pursuits.
He suffered from ill health during his later years which affected his productivity. He died suddenly on 1 April 1872, at the age of 66.