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Friedrich Miescher

Johannes Friedrich Miescher
Friedrich Miescher
Born (1844-08-13)13 August 1844
Died 26 August 1895(1895-08-26) (aged 51)
Nationality Swiss
Fields Biology
Known for Discovery of nucleic acids

Johannes Friedrich Miescher (13 August 1844 – 26 August 1895) was a Swiss physician and biologist. He was the first researcher to isolate and identify nucleic acid.


  • Biography 1
  • See also 2
  • Notes and references 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • External links 5


Miescher isolated various phosphate-rich chemicals, which he called nuclein (now nucleic acids), from the nuclei of white blood cells in 1869 in Felix Hoppe-Seyler's laboratory at the University of Tübingen, Germany,[1] paving the way for the identification of DNA as the carrier of inheritance. The significance of the discovery, first published in 1871, was not at first apparent, and it was Albrecht Kossel who made the initial inquiries into its chemical structure.[2] Later, Friedrich Miescher raised the idea that the nucleic acids could be involved in heredity.[3]

Miescher came from a scientific family: his father and his uncle held the chair of anatomy at the Göttingen, but his studies were interrupted for the year when he became ill with typhoid fever, which left him hearing-impaired. However, he still received his MD in 1868.[1]

Miescher felt that his partial deafness would be a disadvantage as a doctor, so he turned to physiological chemistry. He originally wanted to study lymphocytes but was encouraged by Felix Hoppe-Seyler to study leucocytes. He was interested in studying the chemistry of the nucleus. Lymphocytes were difficult to obtain in sufficient numbers to study, while leucocytes were known to be one of the main components in pus and could be obtained from bandages at the nearby hospital. The problem was, however, washing the cells off the bandages without damaging them.[1]

Miescher devised different salt solutions, eventually producing one with sodium sulfate. The cells were filtered. Since centrifuges were not available at the time, the cells were allowed to settle to the bottom of a beaker. He then tried to isolate the nuclei free of cytoplasm. He subjected the purified nuclei to an alkaline extraction followed by acidification, resulting in the formation of a precipitate that Miescher called nuclein (now known as DNA).[4] He found that this contained phosphorus and nitrogen, but not sulfur. The discovery was so unlike anything else at the time that Hoppe-Seyler repeated all Miescher's research himself before publishing it in his journal. Miescher then went on to study physiology at Leipzig in the laboratory of Carl Ludwig for a year before being appointed professor of physiology.[1]

Miescher and his students researched much nucleic acid chemistry, but its function remained unknown. However, his discovery played an important part in the identification of nucleic acids as the carriers of inheritance. The importance of Miescher's discovery was not apparent until Albrecht Kossel (a German physiologist specializing in the physiological chemistry of the cell and its nucleus and of proteins) carried out research on the chemical structure of nuclein. Friedrich Miescher is also known for demonstrating that carbon dioxide concentrations in blood regulate breathing.[1]

He died of tuberculosis in 1895 aged 51. A laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen and a research institute in Basel have been named after him.[1]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f Dahm, R (Jan 2008). "Discovering DNA: Friedrich Miescher and the early years of nucleic acid research". Human Genetics 122 (6): 565–81.  
  2. ^ Jones, Mary Ellen (September 1953). "Albrecht Kossel, A Biographical Sketch". Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine ( 
  3. ^ Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Books, 2005, p. 500.
  4. ^ Miescher, Friedrich (1871) "Ueber die chemische Zusammensetzung der Eiterzellen" (On the chemical composition of pus cells), Medicinisch-chemische Untersuchungen, 4 : 441–460. From p. 456: "Ich habe mich daher später mit meinen Versuchen an die ganzen Kerne gehalten, die Trennung der Körper, die ich einstweilen ohne weiteres Präjudiz als lösliches und unlösliches Nuclein bezeichnen will, einem günstigeren Material überlassend." ("Therefore, in my experiments I subsequently limited myself to the whole nucleus, leaving to a more favorable material the separation of the substances, that for the present, without further prejudice, I will designate as soluble and insoluble nuclear material ('Nuclein').")


  • Dahm, R (Jan 2008). "Discovering DNA: Friedrich Miescher and the early years of nucleic acid research". Human Genetics 122 (6): 565–81.  
  • Dahm, R (Feb 2005). "Friedrich Miescher and the discovery of DNA". Developmental biology 278 (2): 274–88.  
  • Maderspacher, F (Aug 2004). "Rags before the riches: Friedrich Miescher and the discovery of DNA". Current biology 14 (15): R608.  
  • Knill, Rl (May 1993). "Practical CO2 monitoring in anaesthesia". Canadian Journal of Anesthesia 40 (5 Pt 2): R40–9.  
  • Merke, F (Jan 1973). "Forgotten fundamental physiological studies of migrating salmon by Basel's physiologist, Friedrich Miescher". Gesnerus 30 (1-2): 47–52.  
  • James, J (Mar 1970). "Miescher's discoveries of 1869. A centenary of nuclear chemistry". The journal of histochemistry and cytochemistry : official journal of the Histochemistry Society 18 (3): 217–9.  
  • Ostrowski, W (1970). "From nucleic acids to DNA. On the 100th anniversary of the discovery of nucleic acids by Friedrich Miescher". Postepy biochemii 16 (4): 581–7.  
  • De, Meuron-Landolt, M (Jan 1970). "Johannes Friedrich Miescher: his personality and the importance of his work". Bulletin der Schweizerischen Akademie der Medizinischen Wissenschaften 25 (1-2): 9–24.  
  • Bernhard, K (Jan 1970). "Jonhannes Friedrich Miescher Symposium. 100th anniversary of the discovery of nucleic acids. Welcome". Bulletin der Schweizerischen Akademie der Medizinischen Wissenschaften 25 (1-2): 32–4.  
  • Harbers, E (Oct 1969). "On the discovery of DNA by Friedrich Miescher 100 years ago". German medical monthly 14 (10): 517–8.  
  • Harbers, E (Sep 1969). "On the discovery of DNA by Friedrich Miescher 100 years ago".  
  • Buess, H (Feb 1953). "Joh. Friedrich Miescher and the contribution of Basle physicians to the biology of the nineteenth century". The Yale journal of biology and medicine 25 (4): 250–61.  
  • Miescher, Friedrich (1871). "Ueber die chemische Zusammensetzung der Eiterzellen". Medicinisch-chemische Untersuchungen 4: 441–460. 
  • Greenstein JP (1943). "Friedrich Miescher, 1844-1895". The Scientific Monthly 57 (5): 523–532.  
  • Meyer Friedman and Gerald W. Friedland, Medicine's 10 Greatest Discoveries, ISBN 0-300-08278-9, pp. 194–196.

External links

  • Short biography and bibliography in the Virtual Laboratory of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
  • FMI – Friedrich Miescher Institute
  • The Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society
  • Lasker Foundation
  • FMI – DNA Pioneers and Their Legacy by Ulf Lagerkvist
  • Dahm, Ralf (July–August 2008). "The First Discovery of DNA". American Scientist. 
  • Wolf, George (2003). Friedrich Miescher, the man who discovered DNA. U.C.Berkeley.
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