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J Hist Biol. 2000 Fall;33(2):247-89.

T.H. Huxley's criticism of German cell theory: an epigenetic and physiological interpretation of cell structure.

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Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.


In 1853, the young Thomas Henry Huxley published a long review of German cell theory in which he roundly criticized the basic tenets of the Schleiden-Schwann model of the cell. Although historians of cytology have dismissed Huxley's criticism as based on an erroneous interpretation of cell physiology, the review is better understood as a contribution to embryology. "The Cell-theory" presents Huxley's "epigenetic" interpretation of histological organization emerging from changes in the protoplasm to replace the "preformationist" cell theory of Schleiden and Schwann (as modified by Albert von Kolliker), which posited the nucleus as the seat of organic vitality. Huxley's views influenced a number of British biologists, who continued to oppose German cell theory well into the twentieth century. Yet Huxley was pivotal in introducing the new German program of "scientific zoology" to Britain in the early 1850s, championing its empiricist methodology as a means to enact broad disciplinary and institutional reforms in British natural history.

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