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THEODOR BOVERI- THE VERSATILE CYTOLOGIST

All of us are aware about cytology, a branch of life science that deals with the study of cells in terms of their structure, chemistry and function. The basic structural and functional unit of life is the cell. There were many scientists who contributed a great work in the field of cytology, Theodor Boveri was one of them. He was the first to hypothesise the cellular process that causes cancer.Chromosomal theory of inheritence which is familiar to all of us was developed by Theodor Boveri and Walter Sutton. He was the one to prove that a single chromosme is responsible for a particular trait.

Theodor Boveri was born to AntonieElssner Boveri and Theodor Boveri, on 12th of october 1862, in Bamberg, Germany. His father was a physician. Boveri was the second among the four children. His parents were highly creative. He was encouraged to practice his artistic skills at a very young age. He did his schooling in Bamberg from 1868 to 1875 and later continued at Realgymnasium, Nuremberg from 1875 to 1881. He was trained in music while he was at Realgymnasium. He spent most of his time in drawing and painting. Boveri’s biographer, Fritz Baltzer describes him as highly creative and intellegent, yet very humble and mature. Boveri’s interest in art influenced him to practice science as a natural pursuit and also as an art. He always expected his students also to think like him.

Theodor Boveri graduated from realgymnasium in 1881 and then entered University of Munich in the same year. Boveri was in the merit list of the university qualifying exam therefore he was provided residence at maxmillenium. The university reserved subsidised quarters for students showing exceptional merit. After completing one semester in history and philosophy, Boveri decided to study anatomy and biology. While pursuing his studies at the anatomical institute Boveri became assistant toCarl von Kupffer.

In the year 1885 Boveri wrote his thesis Beitrage zur Kenntnis der Nervenfasern with Von Kupfer as his mentor. He was awarded doctorate for this thesis. In the same year he was presented with Lamont-Stipendium Fellowship. He started working with Richard Hertwig While he was at the Zoological Institute, Munich. His fellowship had extended for additional two years. During his fellowship he read research papers of Edouard Van Beneden on egg maturation and fertilization. The research work of Van Beneden on the nematode Ascaris megalocephala has greatly influenced Boveri to carry out research on egg maturation and other topics related to it using Ascaris as his model organism.

While Boveri was at Zoological Institute he became a very good friend to August Pauly, who was ten years older to him. Boveri continued his studies with Pauly’s encouragement. Boveri wrote a series of three Zellenstudies(cell studies) that contain detailed observations of chromosomal conduct. Boverie’s work with Hertwig encouraged him to use eggs of sea urchins for the purpose of his experiments. Like his findings with Ascaris, Boveri was able to make very good discoveries with his experiments on sea urchin eggs. One of his important discovery was that both maternal and paternal chromosmes had equal importance in the embryonic development.

Soon after his thirtieth birthday in the year 1892, Boveri became professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at Würzburg, Germany, and was made the director of the Zoological-Zootomical Institute of the same university.

Boveri began to suffer from severe heath problems from 1890. He showed symptoms of influenza but he suffered from fatigue and depression and later it was diagonised as neurasthenia. His physical condition got worst with his father’s death and the debts incurred by him. Inspite of spending long periods at various sanitoriums his health was never the same again.

While he was working as professor at Wurzburg, two important events contributed to his success, one was scientific and the other was personal.Corren’s rediscovery of Mendels papers, led Boveri to formulate Chromosomal Theory of Inheritance. He recognised that what were called as “Factors” by Mendel were actually the heridity units on chromosomes. He also found out that the independent assortment and behaviour of chromosomes played an important role in the inheritance of traits. In the same year another scientist Walter Sutton individually came up with findings which were similar to Boveri. Therefore the chromosome theory of inheritence was called Boveri-Sutton chromosome theory.

The second important event while he was a professor was his marriage. Boveri got married to MarcellaO’Grady, an Irish American, on 5th of October 1897. His wife was a biology professor at Vassar college. MarcellaO’Grady was the first women who was admitted in sciences at Würzburg. She was associated with her husband’s work on chromosomal individuality. She was a great support to him but still the entire credit was given to Boveri. Boveri had one child,Margert who became a journalist.

The Theodor Boveri Institute at Wurzburg has many departments in developmental biology, genetics and other related fields. His research work on chromosomal behaviour gave way for the understanding of meiosis and fertilization.

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Theodor Boveri died on 15th of october 1915 in Würzburg, Germany. He was fifty three when he passed away.

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