Schultze, Max Johann Sigismund

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(b. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 25 March 1825; d. Bonn Germany, 16 January 1874)

anatomy, microscopy.

Schultze played a leading role in the movement to reform the cell theory as originally set forth by Schleiden and Schwann. Above all, Schultze and the other reformers disputed Schleiden and Schwann’s emphasis on the cell wall and directed attention instead to the living substance (protoplasm) found within all cells, whether plant or animal.

Schultze was born to Frederike Bellermann and Karl August Sigismund Schultze, then professor of anatomy and physiology at the University of Freiburg. In 1830, when Schultze was five, his father became professor of anatomy at the University of Greifswald. After early education at home, where his interests in natural history, music,and drawing were nurtured and encouraged, Schultze attended the Gymnasium at Greifswald, and studied there from 1835 to 1845. In the summer of 1845 he entered the University of Greifswald as a medical student. He received all of his formal training there, except for the winter semester of 1846–1847, when he went to the University o Berlin. There he heard Johannes Müller lecture on anatomy and physiology and Ernst Brücke on the theory and use of the microscope. With a dissertation on the structure, function, and chemical composition of the arteries, Schultze graduated M.D. from Greifswald on 16 August 1849.

After another winter in Berlin, where he passed the state medical examination, Schultze returned to Greifswald as prosector in anatomy to his father. Later in 1850 he was also named Privatdozent in the faculty of medicine at Greifswald. He moved to Halle as assistant professor of anatomy in October 1854. In 1859 he became professor of anatomy and director of the anatomical institute at Bonn, where he remained despite offers from the universities of Strasbourg and Leipzig. At Bonn he planned and supervised the construction of a new anatomical institute, completed in 1872. Schultze was twice married; in 1854, to his cousin Christine Bellermann, who died of typhoid fever in 1865; and in 1868, to Sophie Sievers of Bonn. His death in 1874 was attributed to a perforated duodenal ulcer

In 1851 Schultze found chlorophyll in the flatworm Turbellaria, thereby contributing to the recognition that animals as well as plants can contain that substance. His achievement won him an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Rostock in 1852 and the Blumenbach Traveling Scholarship from the University of Berlin in 1853. Schultze used this scholarship to go to Italy, where he studied marine zoology on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Like Dujardin before him, he focused on the semifluid substance within the calcareous shells on the foraminifera. In a monograph of 1854 he described the results of this work and proposed the creation of a new class of shelled rhizopods, the Monothalamia, which lacked the internal partitions of Ehrenberg’s Polythalamia. The monograph earned him Ehrenberg’s lasting enmity.

In 1858 Schultze drew attention to the remarkable similarity between cyclosis in lower plants (notably the marine diatoms) and the streaming of granules in the pseudopodia of foraminifera and other lower animals. He also found that physical and chemical agents produced strikingly uniform effects on the contractile contents of plant and animal cells. By 1860 his studies of protozoa had led him to a generalization that implied a redefinition of the cell: “The less perfectly the surface of the protoplasm is hardened to a membrane, the nearer to the primitive membraneless condition does the cell find itself, a condition in which it exhibits only a small lump of protoplasm with nucleus.”1

This definition of the cell as “ein nacktes Protoplasmaklumpchen mit Kern” became famous chiefly through Schultze’s paper “Ueber Muskelkörperchen und das was man eine zelle zu nennen habe” (1861). At the time, controversy surrounded these “muscle corpuscles”—small, granular, spindlelike, nucleated masses of protoplasm found among the contractile fibers of striated muscle. Some histologists took these bodies to be complete cells while others supposed they were merely isolated nuclei. Schultze claimed that the argument stemmed mainly from disagreement over the definition of a cell. If histologists would only abandon the old “botanical” conception of the cell as a “bladderlike structure with membrane, contents, and nucleus,” if they would recognize instead that a cell need not have a chemically distinct membrane, then they might agree with Schultze that the muscle corpuscles were wall-less cells that had fused to form a colonial muscle fiber. This particular conclusion eventually lost favor among histologists, who came to regard the muscle fiber as a single, multinucleated cell rather than as fused colony of many independent cells. But Schultze’s redefinition of the cell and his emphasis on the cell substance won widespread support, despite the opposition of Remak and Reichert.

Even before Schultze entered the arena, Alexander Braun, Ferdinand Cohn, and Franz Leydig, among others, had sought to establish an identity between plant and animal cell substances and to insist that a cell need not have a distinct membrane. Schultze himself admitted that he intended only “to dress in words that which many have long perceived, though perhaps less definitely.”2 That his work nonetheless attracted so much attention can be ascribed to two factors: (1) unlike his predecessors, Schultze gave prominent attention to a tissue (muscle) characteristic of higher, differentiated animals; (2) he also campaigned for the adoption of a single word— protoplasm—to refer to the cell substance of both plants and animals. Following Dujardin, zoologists had generally used the name “sarcode” for the contractile contents of animal cells. Schultze urged them to adopt instead the name used by botanists for the plant cell substance and thereby to acknowledge “the complete correspondence that exists between plant and animal cells in all essential respects.”3

This seemingly trivial suggestion helped to crystallize thinking about the substance of life, and the 1860’s became “a heyday for speculation upon the nature of protoplasm and for the celebration of its amazing properties.”4 Gradually, as it became clear that protoplasm was not a unitary chemical substances, but a dynamic emulsion of several substance, and as the quest for a substance of life focused increasingly on the nucleus, protoplasm lost much of its allure. Moreover, the detection of the plasma membrane—notably through Overton’s plasmolytic studies of the 1890’s—qualified Schultze’s claim that a cell required no limiting boundary. Nonetheless, Schultze’s critique of the original cell theory—and especially of the place of the cell wall in that theory—retained much of its cogency.

Apart from his role in the reform of the cell theory, Schultze did his most important work on the sense organs, particularly the retina, which was the subject of his inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1859. In a monograph of 1867 Schultze sought especially to elucidate the physiological role of the rods and cones. Emphasizing that the rods predominated in nocturnal animals (including the bat, the cat, and the owl), he suggested that these structures were better adapted than the cones for the simple perception of light. Partly because the sense of color in humans was proportional to the number of cones in a given region of the retina, he argued that the cones probably acted as the terminal nerve organs of the color sense, although they obviously served other visual functions as well.

Schultze also did valuable descriptive and taxonomic work, especially on rhizopods and sponges, although he shared the common skepticism of German naturalists toward Darwinian evolutionary theory. In 1864 he described prickles in the stratified squamous epithelium of mammalian tongue and skin, but without recognizing them as plasmodesmata. In 1865 he gave a clear description of the blood platelets. His studies of bioluminescence and of the electric organs of fishes also attracted considerable attention.

Schultze founded in 1865 and edited until his death the Archiv für mikroskopische Anatomie und Entwicklungsmechanik. This esteemed journal, in which he published most of his later papers, won the support of many of the leading German histologists and microscopists of the day. A consummate master of microscopic technique, Schultze introduced osmic acid as a fixative and iodized serum as a preservative “physiological fluid.” He also designed a “hot stage” for the microscope, allowing the investigator to heat his preparations within reasonably precise temperatures. In the judgment of N. E. Nordenskiöld, Schultze “brought cytology to the farthest point possible” before the introduction of the microtome.5


1. Max Schultze, “Die Gattung Cornuspira unter den Monothalamien und Bemerkungen über die Organisation und Fortpflanzung der Polythalamien.” in Archiv fü Naturgeschichte, 26 (1860), 299, Cf. ibid., 305. See also Baker, “The Cell Theory,” pt. 3, pp. 164–165.

2. Schultze, “Ueber Muskelkörperchen,” 8

3.ibid., 2, n, 2.

4. Coleman, “Cell, Nucleus, and Inheritance,” 128.

5. Nils Erik Nordenskiöld, The History of Biology; A Survey, trans, from the Swedish by Leonard Bucknall Eyre (New York, 1949), 533–534.


I. Original Works. Schultze’s published monographs include Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Turbellarien. Erste Abtheilung (Greifswald, 1851); Ueber den Organismus der Polythalamien (Foraminiferen) nebst Bemerkungen über die Rhizopoden im Allgemeinen (Leipzig, 1854); Das Protoplasma der Rhizopoden und Physiologie der Retina (Bonn, 1867). For his famous paper on “muscle corpuscles,” see “Ueber Muskelkörperchen und das was man eine Zelle zu nennen habe,” in Archiv fü Anatomie. Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medizin (1861), 1–27.

In his obituary notice Schwalbe (see below) gives a chronological bibliography of eight-two items by Schultze. The Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific papers, V. 571–573; VIII, 894–895; XII, 66, lists eighty-eight papers by Schultze alone and one written with M. Rudneff. Nonetheless, Schwalbe’s bibliography is probably complete, for the Royal Society Catalogue sometimes gives a separate listing to trans, or to multiple items that Schwalbe includes under one entry.

II. Secondary Literature G. Schwalbe’s obituary notice, in Archive für mikroskopische Anatomie und Entwicklungsmechanik, 10 (1874), i-xxiii, provides the basis for the article by Theodor H. Bast, in Annals of Medical History, n.s. 3 (1931), 166–178. Brief sketches, also derivative from Schwalbe, appear in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, LIV (1908), 256–257; and in Biographisches Lexicon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Vöker, 2nd ed., V (1934), 162–163.

More generally, see William Coleman, “Cell, Nucleus, and Inheritance: An Historical Study,” in Proceedingsof the American Philosophical Society, 109 (1965), 24–158; G. L. Geison, “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life and the Vitalist-Mechanist Debate,” in l sis, 60 (1969), 273–292: and “Towards a Substance of Life: Concepts of Protoplasm, 1835–1870” (M.A. thesis, Yale Univ., 1967), esp. ch. 4: and John R. Baker, “The Cell Theory: A Restatemen, History, and Critique,” in Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, in five parts: 89 (1948), 103–125; 90 (1949), 87–108; 93 (1952), 157–190; 94 (1953), 407–440; and 96 (1955), 49–481. References to Schultze will be found in pt. 2, pp. 95–96, and in pt. 3, pp. 164–165, 172, 176, 180, 189.

Gerald L. Geison