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Abraham Trembley

Abraham Trembley
Abraham Trembley
Born 3 September 1710
Died 12 May 1784
Nationality Switzerland
Fields Naturalist
Known for hydra (genus)
Notable awards Copley Medal, 1743

Abraham Trembley (3 September 1710 – 12 May 1784 Geneva) was a Swiss naturalist. He is best known for being the first to study freshwater polyps or hydra and for being among the first to develop experimental zoology. His mastery of experimental method has led some historians of science to credit him as the "father of biology".[1]


  • Biography 1
  • Work on hydra 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4


Trembley came from an officer's family from The Hague.[2] Sketches and drawings of his experiments with the children, made by Cornelis Pronk, are kept in the archives of the town of The Hague, the Netherlands.[3]

Work on hydra

While Trembley thought he had discovered a new species, Leeuwenhoek had in fact first published on hydra in 1702-1703 volume of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, describing them as a type of "animalculum". In his work Leeuwenhoek clearly described the process of budding, as well as tentacles contractility and the presence of cnidocyte batteries on tentacles.[4]

Trembley's laboratory at Zorgvlied, as depicted in his 1744 book. Judging from his correspondence, though, his laboratory was in fact much more crowded with objects, such as up to 140 jars.[5]
A hydra as depicted in Trembley's 1744 book.

Trembley's findings were published in a groundbreaking book in 1744, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire d'un genre de polypes d'eau douce, Gebr. Verbeek, Leiden, translated into German in 1791 as Abhandlungen zur Geschichte einer Polypenart des süssen Wassers. His discoveries lead to his membership of the Royal Academy in London and a correspondent member of the académie des sciences in France. He was recipient of the Copley medal.

Some attribute Trembley as being the first to study stem cells, although he obviously did not refer to them as such. Trembley did however make note of their incredible regenerative capacity.[6]


  1. ^ See Ratcliff, op.cit., p. 556, n. 1.
  2. ^ Stott, Rebecca (2012). Darwin's Ghosts. New York: Spiegel& Grau. pp. 86–106.  
  3. ^ Gajus Scheltema, "Pronk, Bentinck en Trembley: Schetsen uit achtiende-eeuws Den Haag", in "Jaarboek Geschiedkundige Vereniging Die Haghe", The Hague, 2005 (in Dutch).
  4. ^ Phil.Trans.Roy.Soc., 1702-1703,vol.23,N 283,pp. 1304-1311//Part of a Letter from Mr Antony van Leeuwenhoek, F. R. S. concerning Green Weeds Growing in Water, and Some Animalcula Found about ThemPart of a Letter from Mr Antony van Leeuwenhoek, F. R. S. concerning Green Weeds Growing in Water, and Some Animalcula Found about Them
  5. ^ See Ratcliff, op.cit., p. 569.
  6. ^ see "Lenhoff, Sylvia G. and Howard M. Lenhoff" Op. Cit.

Further reading

  • "Hydra and the Birth of Experimental Biology, 1744: Abraham Trembley's Memoires Concerning the Polyps " Lenhoff, Sylvia G. and Howard M. Lenhoff,The Boxwood Press, Pacific Grove, CA1986 (ISBN 9780940168015 )
  • Breen, Quirinus (1 January 1956). "Baker, John R., Abraham Trembley of Geneva, Scientist and Philosopher, 1710-1784". Journal of the Medical Library Association 44 (1): 84–85.  
  • Ratcliff, Marc J. (December 2004). "Abraham Trembley’s Strategy of Generosity and the Scope of Celebrity in the Mid-Eighteenth Century" (PDF).  
  • Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery, entries on Abraham Trembley, as reproduced on
  • Animal, Vegetable and Mineral: Natural History books by ten authors, on-line exhibit, Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University
  • Online biography, Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence
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