Pander, Christian Heinrich

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(b. Riga, Latvia, Russia, 24 July 1794; d. St. Petersburg, Russia, 22 September 1865)

embryology, anatomy, paleontology.

Pander was the son of a wealthy banker of German descent. After studying in the local schools of Riga, he entered the University of Dorpat in 1812. Dorpat had been refounded in 1798, and its faculty was German trained. Prior to this the Baltic gentry had traditionally sent their sons to German universities. Although his father had wanted him to study medicine, Pander was more interested in natural history, but he attempted to combine the two. At Dorpat he came under the influence of the anatomist Karl Friedrich Burdach, who had also taught Karl Ernst von Baer; Baer later continued Pander’s embryologic researches.

In 1814 Pander left Dorpat for Berlin and from there he went on to Göttingen. In March 1816, at a congress of Baltic students resident in Germany, he renewed his acquaintance with Baer, who persuaded him to come to the University of Würzburg and study under Ignaz Döllinger. In his autobiography Baer states that he, Pander, and Döllinger had discussed Döllinger’s hope that someone would study anew the development of the chick embryo. Pander took on the task and he received his M.D. at Würzburg in 1817. His dissertation, “Historia metamorphoseos quam ovum incubatum prioribus quinque diebus subit,” was amplified and then published in German (1817) with illustrations by the elder E. J. d’Alton.

Pander discovered the trilaminar structure of the chick blastoderm, a term he also coined. He stated that he used the term blastoderm, from the Greek blastos, germ, and derma, skin, because the embryo chose it as “its seat and its domicile, contributing much to its configuration out of its own substance, therefore in the future we shall call it blastoderm.“ He described the three layers as the serous or outer, the vascular or middle, and the mucous or inner. In the twelfth hour of embryonic development he reported that the blastoderm consisted of two entirely separate layers: an inner layer, thick and opaque; and an outer layer thin, smooth, and transparent. Between these two a third layer developed, in which blood vessels formed and from which “events of the greatest importance subsequently occur.” When Baer receieved a copy of Pander’s work in 1818 at Konigsberg University, where he was serving as prosector to his old Dorpat professor, Burdach, he began his own investigations, which ultimately revolutionized embryology. Baer’s first treatise on the subject includes an introduction styled as a personal letter to Pander, explaining his differences with his old friend.

Pander, for reasons that are not entirely clear, never pursued his early research, although he regarded his studies as incomplete and had expressed himself only briefly on the subsequent transformations that took place in the embryo. After receiving his degree, Pander traveled in a leisurely manner through Germany, France, Spain, Holland, and England with d’Alton as a companion, visiting anatomical museums and making various paleontological, geological, and biological observations. In 1821 he began publishing a series of papers on comparative osteology with illustrations by d’Alton. In these osteological studies Pander developed an evolutionary theory of the development of animal forms which had strong Lamarckian overtones. Goethe endorsed his transformist ideas, and Darwin was aware of them through secondary sources.

In 1821 he became a member of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. He also traveled extensively in Russia at this time and wrote an account of the natural history of Bukhara in central Asia. In 1826 he became a fellow of the Zoological Academy in St. Petersburg, but in 1827 he returned to his estate near Riga, where he remained until 1842. In that year he returned to St. Petersburg as a member of the Mining Institute. He then resumed his travels in Russia, observing geological characteristics and gathering paleontological materials. Although he wrote almost exclusively on geological matters, he began a zoological collection and surveyed geological formations around St. Petersburg. Little of his later work has received the attention paid his earlier studies.


I. Original Works. Pander’s major works include Dissertatio inauguralis, sistens historiam metamorphoseos, quam ovum incubatum prioribus quinque diebus subit (Würzburg, 1817); Beiträge zur Entwickelungsgeschichte des Hühnchens im Eie (Würzburg 1817); Der vergleichende Osteologie, 12 vols, (Bonn, 1821–1831), written with E. d’Alton, and divided into individually titled sections Riesenfaulthier (1821), Pachydermata (1821), Raubthiere, (1822) Widerkauer (1823), Nagathiere, 2 vols. (1823–1824), Vierhänder (1825), Zahnlose, Thiere (1826), Robben und Lamantine (1826), Cetaceen (1827), Beutelthiere (1828), and Chiropteren und Insectivoren (1831); “Naturgeschichte der Bukharei,” in George Meyendorf, Reise von Orenburg nach Buchara (Jena, 1826), trans. into French as Voyage d’Orenbourg à Boukhara (Paris, 1826); Beiträge zur Geognosie des russischen Reichs (St . Petersburg, 1830); Monographie der Fossilen Fische des silurischen Systems der Russisch–Baltischen Gouvernements (St. Petersburg, 1856); Über die Placodermen des devonischen Systems (St. Peterburg, 1857); Über die Ctenodipterinen des devonischen Systems (St. Petersburg, 1858); and Über die Saurodipterinen, Dendrodonten, Glyptolepiden und Cheirolepiden des devonischen Systems (St. Petersburg, 1860).

II. Secondary Literature. For Pander’s contributions to embryology, see Erik Nordenskiöld, The History of Biology (New York, 1928), 368–369; Jane M. Oppenheimer, “The Non-Specificity of the Germ Layers,” in her Essays in the History of Embryology and Biology (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), 256–294, which is reprinted with additional bibliography from the Quarterly Review of Biology, 15 (1940), 1–27; and Alexander Vucinich, Science in Russian Culture: A History to 1860 (Stanford, 1963), 206, 362.

Personal information about Pander is found in the autobiography of Karl Ernst von Baer, Nachrichten über Leben und Schriften des Geheimrathes Dr. Karl Ernst von Baer, mitgetheilt von ihm selbst. Veröffentlicht bei Gelegenheit seines fünfzigjährigen Doctor-Jubiläums, am 29. August 1864, von der Ritterschaft Ehstlands (St. Peterburg, 1866); and in L. Steidt’s article in Allegemeine Deutsche Biographie, XXV (Leipzig, 1875–1901), 117–119.

Vern L. Bullough