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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Moritz Traube1   2 March 1875

Breslau, | Junkernstr 7.

2. Maerz 1875

Hochgeehrter Herr!

Gestatten Sie mir, Ihnen inliegend zwei Abhandlungen von mir zu überweisen.2 Es ist mir gelungen, einige bisher für spezifisch gehaltene, der physikalischen Forschung scheinbar unzugängliche Lebensprozesse, die Bildung der Zellhaut, ihres Wachsthums durch Intraposition der Moleküle (Intussusception) u. verschiedene Wachsthumserscheinungen der Zellen überhaupt durch physikalisch- chemische Experimente zu erläutern u. zu zeigen, daß auch unorganische Massen unter gewissen Bedingungen die Gestalt von Zellen annehmen, die in Bezug auf Form u. Wachsthum ähnliche Erscheinungen aufweisen, wie die lebenden Zellen selbst,— selbstverständlich ohne deren sonstige Lebens-Eigenschaften zu besitzen.3

Die bereits 1866 veröffentlichten Versuche haben zwar endlich vor Kurzem bei einem unserer bedeutendsten Pflanzenphysiologen, H. Professor Julius Sachs in dessen Lehrbuch der Botanik (erste Auflage 1873. S. 580–88)4 eine mir sehr erfreuliche Anerkennung gefunden, aber auch gleichzeitig einige Einwendungen erfahren, die ich in der zweiten Abhandlung (vorgetragen in der vorjährigen Naturforscherversammlung in Breslau) widerlegte.5 Im Übrigen sind diese Versuche auch in Deutschland nur wenig, in England wohl gar nicht bekannt geworden u. da jeder wissenschaftliche Fund als nicht existirend anzusehen ist, so lange er keine genügende Anerkennung gefunden, so würde es mir zu hoher Freude gereichen, wenn Sie, Hochverehrter Herr, die so gewichtige Autorität in Fragen des organischen Lebens, diese Versuche der Beachtung werth fänden u. die Überzeugung gewinnen würden, daß sie in der That zur Aufhellung einiger wichtiger organischer Probleme beizutragen geeignet sind.

In gewisser Beziehung haben meine Versuche einen Zusammenhang mit Ihrer Entwicklungstheorie. Ihre erfolgreiche Bemühung, die Mannigfaltigkeit der organischen Natur von dem Wunder unzähliger, besonderer Schöpfungen zu befreien u. auf natürliche Ursachen zurückzufüren, ist offenbar eng verwandt mit jener naturwissenschaftlichen Richtung, die bemüht ist, die für spezifisch gehaltenen Lebensprozesse als einfach physikalisch-chemische Vorgänge zu erweisen. Jeder Erfolg in der letzteren Richtung ist eine neue Stütze für die Entwicklungstheorie, insofern er beweist, daß die bei fortschreitender Entwicklung der organischen Welt neu auftretenden Lebenseigenschaften nur auf einer besonderen Anwendung bereits vorhandener anorganischer Kräfte beruhen. In diesem Sinne könnte man aus meinen Untersuchungen schließen, daß die Organismen, die zuerst mit von einer Membran umgebenen Zellen auftreten, diese Fähigkeit, Zellen zu bilden, nicht als neue Kraft zuerstlich erhielten, sondern aus der unorganischen Natur entlehnten.

Es zeichnet | mit größter Hochachtung | ergebenst | M. Traube.

[Contemporary translation]

Breslau | Ju(?)nkerstr.

March 2nd. 1875

Highly honoured Sir—

Permit me to offer you the two enclosed treatises of mine. I have succeeded by physico-chemical experiments in explaining some life- processes which till now were considered organic, (spezifisch) and (were) apparently inaccessible to physical enquiry; (viz.) the formation of the cell wall, its growth through the intraposition of Molecules, (intussusception.) and other general phenomena of the growth of cells, and in showing that under certain circumstances inorganic matter takes the form of cells which as to shape and growth present phenomena resembling those of living cells—of course without their life properties.

These experiments, published as early as 1866, have at last (a short time ago) been recognized in a very satisfactory way by one of our foremost botanical physiologists Prof. Julius Sachs in his Handbook of Botany. (1st. Ed. 1873 pp. 580–88) At the same time some objections were raised against them which however I refuted in my second treatise (lecture) delivered at last year’s Conference of Naturalists at Breslau. But this excepted, these experiments have been little noticed even in Germany; & in England have probably remained quite unknown. And as every scientific discovery is to be considered as not in existence as long as it has not met with sufficient recognition, it would be a great satisfaction to me if you, highly honoured Sir, who are so weighty an authority in questions respecting organic life, should find these experiments worthy of your attention, and were to be convinced that they are indeed of a kind to assist in the clearing up of/throwing light upon some important life problems.

In a certains sense my experiments are related to your theory of development. Your successful endeavour to free the complexity of organic nature from the miracle of many separate creations and to trace it back to natural causes is evidently closely related to that tendency of Natural science which strives to prove life processes—until now considered organic (spezifisch)—to be simply physico-chemical processes. Every success in this direction is a new confirmation of the theory of development in as much as it proves that the first appearance of life properties in the organic world as it progressively developed, are based only on a special employment/determination? of already existing organic forces. In this sense one might conclude from my investigations that the organisms which first appeared with cells surrounded by a membrane did not receive the faculty of forming cells as a new power but borrowed it from inorganic nature.

I sign myself | with greatest respect | devotedly | M.T.

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I. A contemporary translation found with the letter is included above.
Traube enclosed his papers ‘Experimente zur Theorie der Zellenbildung und Endosmose’ (Experiments on the theory of cell formation and endosmosis; Traube 1867), and ‘Experimente zur physikalischen Erklärung der Bildung der Zellhaut, ihres Wachsthums durch Introsusception und des Aufwärtswachsens der Pflanzen’ (Experiments on the physical explanation of the formation of the cell membrane, its growth through introsusception and the upward growth of plants; Traube 1874). CD’s copies are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In his earlier paper (Traube 1867), Traube had described several experiments in which he was able to create an artificial precipitation membrane using colloidal and even crystalloidal solutions with osmotic properties similar to those of plant cell membranes. Traube argued that artificial membranes exhibited differential permeability (endosmosis) similar to that in plants, and grew upwards in a similar way that could also be accounted for by simple physical processes. He explained that as water passed through the membrane, it was pushed by osmotic pressure to the top of the cell because of its lower specific gravity than the rest of the interior solution. The membrane at the upper end would become thinner (i.e. the interstitial spaces between the membrane molecules would become enlarged) as the pressure between interior and exterior solutions equalised at this part of the membrane. In this state molecules of the interior solution would pass through, allowing the two solutions to interact and the precipitation reaction to resume. New membrane was then formed by intussusception. The process worked best when the difference between the interstitial spaces of the membrane and the size of the membrane molecules was greatest (ibid., pp. 131–3).
Traube refers to pages from the third, not the first, edition of Lehrbuch der Botanik (Textbook of botany; Sachs 1873, pp. 580–4), which is the first edition in which Traube’s research is discussed. CD’s annotated copy of Sachs 1873 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 727–8). CD’s copy of the French translation of Sachs 1873 (Sachs 1874a) contains annotations referring to Traube (see Marginalia 1: 728–30).
After repeating Traube’s experiments using a concentrated solution of copper chloride in a weak solution of potassium ferrocyanide, Sachs argued that the artificial membranes did not, in fact, grow by intussusception but rather by eruption (Sachs 1873, pp. 583–4). In his lecture to the meeting of German naturalists and physicians, Traube countered that the strength of the cell membrane was such that a simple change in the specific gravity of part of the interior solution could not cause a rupture at the top of the cell, noting that according to the laws of hydrostatics, pressure would be equal on all parts of the membrane (Traube 1874, p. 199).

Bibliography

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Traube, Moritz. 1867. Experimente zur Theorie der Zellenbildung und Endosmose. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin (1867): 87–165.

Traube, Moritz. 1874. Experimente zur physikalischen Erklärung der Bildung der Zellhaut, ihres Wachsthums durch Introsusception und des Aufwärtswachsens der Pflanzen. Tageblatt der 47. Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher und Aerzte in Breslau vom 18. bis 24 September 1874, pp. 191–9. Breslau: E. Morgenstern.

Translation

From Moritz Traube1   2 March 1875

Breslau | Junkernstr. 7

2. March 1875

Highly honoured Sir!

Permit me to submit to you the two enclosed treatises of mine.2 I have succeeded in explaining, principally through physico-chemical experiments, some life processes that up to now have been considered as specifically organic, and apparently inaccessible to physical enquiry: the formation of the cell membrane, its growth through the intraposition of molecules, (intussusception) and various cellular growth phenomena, and in showing that under certain circumstances even inorganic matter takes the form of cells that, with reference to form and growth, exhibit similar phenomena to living cells themselves—obviously without their other vital properties.3

These experiments, published as early as 1866, have at last recently been recognized to my great satisfaction by one of our foremost botanical physiologists Prof. Julius Sachs in his Lehrbuch der Botanik (1st edition 1873 pp. 580–88),4 but at the same time some objections were discovered that I refuted in my second paper (presented at last year’s meeting of naturalists at Breslau).5 As for the rest, these experiments have been little noticed even in Germany; & in England have probably remained quite unknown and since every scientific discovery is not considered to exist as long as it has not met with sufficient recognition, it would give me great satisfaction if you, highly honoured Sir, who are such an important authority in questions respecting organic life, should find these experiments worthy of your attention, and were to be convinced that they are indeed of a kind to assist in the clarification of some important organic problems.

In a particular respect my experiments are related to your theory of development. Your successful endeavour to free the complexity of organic nature from the miracle of many separate creations and to trace it back to natural causes is clearly closely related to that school of natural science that endeavours to demonstrate that processes considered to be specific to life are simply physico-chemical processes. Every success in the latter direction is a new support for development theory, in as much as it proves that the first appearance of life properties in the progressive development of the organic world are are only founded on a special application of already existing inorganic forces. In this sense one could conclude from my investigations that the organisms which first appeared with cells surrounded by a membrane did not receive this ability to form cells as a new power, but rather borrowed it from inorganic nature.

I remain | with greatest respect | devotedly | M. Traube

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original German, and a contemporary translation, see pp. 93–5.
Traube enclosed his papers ‘Experimente zur Theorie der Zellenbildung und Endosmose’ (Experiments on the theory of cell formation and endosmosis; Traube 1867), and ‘Experimente zur physikalischen Erklärung der Bildung der Zellhaut, ihres Wachsthums durch Introsusception und des Aufwärtswachsens der Pflanzen’ (Experiments on the physical explanation of the formation of the cell membrane, its growth through introsusception and the upward growth of plants; Traube 1874). CD’s copies are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
In his earlier paper (Traube 1867), Traube had described several experiments in which he was able to create an artificial precipitation membrane using colloidal and even crystalloidal solutions with osmotic properties similar to those of plant cell membranes. Traube argued that artificial membranes exhibited differential permeability (endosmosis) similar to that in plants, and grew upwards in a similar way that could also be accounted for by simple physical processes. He explained that as water passed through the membrane, it was pushed by osmotic pressure to the top of the cell because of its lower specific gravity than the rest of the interior solution. The membrane at the upper end would become thinner (i.e. the interstitial spaces between the membrane molecules would become enlarged) as the pressure between interior and exterior solutions equalised at this part of the membrane. In this state molecules of the interior solution would pass through, allowing the two solutions to interact and the precipitation reaction to resume. New membrane was then formed by intussusception. The process worked best when the difference between the interstitial spaces of the membrane and the size of the membrane molecules was greatest (ibid., pp. 131–3).
Traube refers to pages from the third, not the first, edition of Lehrbuch der Botanik (Textbook of botany; Sachs 1873, pp. 580–4), which is the first edition in which Traube’s research is discussed. CD’s annotated copy of Sachs 1873 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 727–8). CD’s copy of the French translation of Sachs 1873 (Sachs 1874a) contains annotations referring to Traube (see Marginalia 1: 728–30).
After repeating Traube’s experiments using a concentrated solution of copper chloride in a weak solution of potassium ferrocyanide, Sachs argued that the artificial membranes did not, in fact, grow by intussusception but rather by eruption (Sachs 1873, pp. 583–4). In his lecture to the meeting of German naturalists and physicians, Traube countered that the strength of the cell membrane was such that a simple change in the specific gravity of part of the interior solution could not cause a rupture at the top of the cell, noting that according to the laws of hydrostatics, pressure would be equal on all parts of the membrane (Traube 1874, p. 199).

Bibliography

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Traube, Moritz. 1867. Experimente zur Theorie der Zellenbildung und Endosmose. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin (1867): 87–165.

Traube, Moritz. 1874. Experimente zur physikalischen Erklärung der Bildung der Zellhaut, ihres Wachsthums durch Introsusception und des Aufwärtswachsens der Pflanzen. Tageblatt der 47. Versammlung deutscher Naturforscher und Aerzte in Breslau vom 18. bis 24 September 1874, pp. 191–9. Breslau: E. Morgenstern.

Summary

Sends two treatises which explain cell-wall formation and some aspects of cell growth in physico-chemical terms ["Experimente zur Theorie d. Zellenbildung und Endosmose", Arch. Anat. Physiol. (1867): 87–128, 126–65].

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-9878
From
Moritz Traube
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Breslau
Source of text
DAR 178: 176
Physical description
4pp (German), trans 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9878,” accessed on 17 September 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-9878.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23

letter