Beneden, Pierre-Joseph Van

views updated

Beneden, Pierre-Joseph Van

b Mechelen [French, Malines], Belgium, 19 December 1809; d. Louvain, Belgium, 8 January 1894),


After studying the humanities, Van Beneden was apprenticed to the pharmacist Louis Stoffels, a great collector of natural history specimens, whose house was a veritable museum that inspired Van Beneden to become a zoologist. At that time in the kingdom of the Low Countries, it was not necessary to attend a university in order to become a pharmacist, but Stoffels recognized in Van Beneden the talents of a scientist and persuaded the boy’s parents to send him to the University of Louvain (then still a state university), where he studied medicine. After obtaining the M. D., Van Beneden went to Paris to study zoology, intending to become a professor of zoology at one of the state universities of the new kingdom of Belgium. Since other professors had already been appointed to these chairs, he accepted the post of professor of zoology at the newly created Catholic University of Louvain on 10 April 1835.

Van Beneden’s contributions to zoology concern most animal phyla and are characterized by the importance given to embryology in the recognition of systematic affinities. He was a naturalist whose curiosity extended to the broadest spectrum of animal species, His main contribution, however, was the discovery of the life cycle of the cestodes (1849). When he started this work in 1845, the cycle was entirely unknown. It was known that the digestive tract of certain animals contains certain taenias, and the presence of cysticerci in other forms was also known, but no relation had been established between these forms, which were considered to be distinct and autonomous organisms, the products of a spontaneous generation in the tissues of their hosts. Taenias were considered to be hypertrophied intestinal villi

Dujardin had already noticed a similarity between the heads of certain cysticerci of the liver of bony fishes and the head of Tetrarhynchus living in the gut of cartilaginous fishes that fed on bony fishes. From an extensive study of the contents of the digestive tracts of a large number of fishes, Van Beneden concluded, in January 1849, that a cysticercus is an incomplete taenioid. Siebold adopted this view in 1850, and the following year Küchenmeister demonstrated experimentally that Cysticercus cellulosae from a rabbit’s peritoneum, fed to a dog, becomes Taenia serrata.

Since the Parisian zoologist Valenciennes refused to accept his theory, Van Beneden left for Paris on 22 April 1858 with four dogs, one of which had been fed thirty-two cysticercus; another, seventy; and the other two, none. In Paris he met Milne-Edwards and Quatrefages in Valenciennes’s laboratory; he predicted which dogs would contain the taenias and confirmed his predictions by autopsy.

In 1853 the Institut de France gave an important prize to a paper by Van Beneden on the mode of development and transmission of intestinal worms. This report, published in 1858, covers a wide range of data on parasites, concerning not only cestodes and trematodes, but also nematodes, Gordiacea, and Acanthocephala. The paper ends with a masterly treatment of the systematics of worms that is based on embryology.

After 1859 Van Beneden devoted himself to the study of Cetacea, both living and fossil. In 1878 he determined that the first fossil skeleton discovered in the coal mine of Bernissart belonged to the genus Iguanodon. During the last years of his life Van Beneden devoted his efforts to new studies on parasites. In 1898 his native town raised a statue to honor his memory.


1. Original Works. A complete list of Van Beneden’s publications is in Notices biographiques et bibliographiques de l’Académie royale de Belgique (1886, 1896). The most important are “Les Helminthes cestoïdes, considérés sous le rapport de leurs métamorphoses, de leur composition anatomique et de leur classification, et mention de quelques espèces nouvelles de nos poissons Plagiostomes,” in Bulletin de l’Académie royale des sciences de Belgique, 16 (1849), 269; “Notice sur un nouveau genre d’Helminthe cestoïde,” ibid., 182; “Faune littorale de Belgique. Les vers cestoïdes, considërés sous le rapport physiologique, embryogénique et zooclassique.” ibid., 17 (1850), 102; “Notice sur l’éclosion du Tenia dispar et la manière dont les embryons de cestoïdes pénétrent å travers les tissus, se logent dans les organes creux, et peuvent même passer de la mère au foetus,” ibid., 20 (1853), 287; Mémoire sur les vers intestinaux, Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences (Paris), supp. 2 (1858); “Sur la découverte de reptiles fossiles gigantesques dans le charbonnage de Bernissart près de Péruwelz,” in Bulletin de l’Académie royale des sciences de Belgique, 2nd ser., 45 (1878), 578–579.

II.Secondary Literature. The most detailed biography of Van Beneden is A. Kemna. P.J. Van Beneden, la vie et l’oeuvre d’un zoologiste (Antwerp, 1897). Other publications concerning his life and work are J.B. Abeloos, Discours prononcé à la Salle des Promotions... après le service funèbre... de M. Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden (Louvain, 1894); Charles Van Bambeke, “P.J. Van Beneden, 1809–1894,” in Annales de la Société belge de microscopie20 (1896); Paul Brien, “Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden,” in Florilège des sciences en Belgique (Brussels, 1967), pp. 825–851; P. Debaisieux, “Un siècle de biologie à l’Université de Louvain,” in Revue des questions scientifiques (1937); H. Filhol, “lnauguration de la statue de Van Beneden å Malines le 24 juillet 1898,” in Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences de Paris, 127 (1898), 91; A. Gaudry, “Statue de Van Beneden et les fêtes de Malines,” in La nature, 26 (1898); Auguste Lameere, “Notice sur Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden,” in Annuaire de l’Académie royale de Belgique107 (1941), 1–13, with portrait; and “Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden.” in Biographie nationale, XXVI, col.184; Dr. F. Lefebvre, “Discours prononcé aux funérailles de P.J. Van Beneden,” in Bulletin de l’Académie de médecine de Belgique (1894); Manifestation en l’honneur de M. le professeur P.J. Van Beneden, Louvain (Ghent, 1877); Manifestation en l’honneur de M. le professeur P.J. Van Beneden, å l’occasion de son cinquantenaire de professorat. Louvain)Louvain, 1886); “Manifestation en l’honneur de Pierre-Joseph Van Beneden à l’occasiion du cinquantième anniversaire de sa nomination comme membre titulaire de la Classe des Sciences (1842–1892),”in Bulletin de l’Académie royal de Belgique. 3rd ser., 23 (1892). 702–709; M. Mourlon, “Discours prononcé aux funérailles de P.J. Van Beneden,” ibid., 27 (1894), 201–208; P. Pelseneer, “P.J. Van Beneden malacologiste.” in Mémoires de la Société royal malacologique de Belgique29 (1894); J. Van Raemdonck, “Souvenirs du professeur Van Beneden,” in Annales du Cercle Archéologique du Pays de waes14 (1894); and Souvenir de l’inauguration de la staute de P.J. Van Beneden … (Malines, 1898).

Marcel Florkin

About this article

Beneden, Pierre-Joseph Van

Updated About content Print Article