Prevost, Jean-Louis

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(b. Geneva, Switzerland, 1 September 1790; d. Geneva, 14 March 1850)

physiology, embryology, medicine.

While still a child Prevost knew the outstanding naturalists of Geneva: Franςois and Jean-Pierre Huber, Jean Senebier, Jean-Pierre Vaucher, and Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle. Like many of them, he began theological studies and later turned to medicine. In 1814 he went to Paris, where he remained for two years, and then to Edinburgh, where from 1816 to 1818 he studied for his doctorate in medicine. Having obtained it, he went to Dublin, doubtless to familiarize himself with the details of medical practice.

Prevost then returned to Geneva, where he set up a practice; but research soon seemed more attractive than the sick, and he turned to microscopy and the study of modern chemistry. He assembled a group of collaborators with whom he wrote important memoirs: A. Le Royer, H. Lebert, Antoine Morin, and Jean-Baptiste Dumas. Prevost was concerned with the care of the indigent sick; and assisted by a few friends, including Louis Gosse, he founded a hospital where the poor could be cared for without charge— undoubtedly the first outpatient hospital in Europe.

In “Sur les animalcules spermatiques de divers animaux“(1821), written with Dumas, Prevost made a histological examination of spermatozoa and proved, for the first time, that these cells originate in certain tissues of the male sex glands. His observations were the culmination of a series of experimental researches, including those of Spallanzani, which prepared the way for modern discoveries in fertilization.

In 1824, again in collaboration with Dumas, Prevost published three memoirs on generation in the Annales des sciences naturelles that are considered the foundation of experimental embryology. Through their analysis of segmentation of the frog’s egg, Prevost and Dumas confirmed the research of Swammerdam and of K. E. von Baer, and set forth the classic laws governing the development of the fertilized egg. These achievements brought Prevost and Dumas the Prix Montyon of the Paris Academy of Sciences.

Prevost next turned to new fields and, with Le Royer, published “Observations sur les contenus du canal digestif” (1825), a six-page memoir in which they expounded an advanced theory of digestion. For Prevost physiology was inseparable from chemistry, and thus he became one of the first biochemists. A work published in 1828 was the first of a series of investigations on the circulation of the blood, and a note on the circulation in the ruminant fetus also showed original observations.

With Morin, Prevost published “Recherches physiologiques et chimiques sur la nutrition du foetus” (1841), followed by two works written with Lebert, “Sur la formation des organes de la circulation et du sang chez les batraciens” (1844), and “Observations sur le développement du coeur chez le poulet” (1847).

Prevost should be considered a pioneer in hematology. Through his analysis of the composition of the blood and the nature of its circulation, as well as in his studies of the origin and evolution of the heart and blood vessels, he proved to be a remarkable physiologist and embryologist. He was one of the first to suggest the possibility of blood transfusions between individuals. Prevost was also interested in microscopy, conducted experiments on muscle contraction, and was the first to use a “galvanic current” in his experiments. He published observations on the reproduction of mollusks and reported findings on neuromuscular relations.


I. Original Works. The Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, V, 14-16, lists about 50 memoirs written by Prevost or in collaboration with others. Those cited in the text are “Sur les animalcules spermatiques de divers animaux,” in Mémoires de la Société de physique et d’histoire naturelle de Genève, 1 (1821), 180-207, written with J.-B. Dumas; “Sur la génération,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, 1 (1824), 1-29, 167-187, 274-293; 2 (1824), 100-120, 129-149; 3 (1824), 113-138, written with J.-B. Dumas; “Observations sur les contenus du canal digestif chez les foetus des vertébrés,” in Bibliothèque universelle, 1st ser, 29 (1825), 133-139, written with A. Le Royer; “Note sur la circulation du foetus chez les ruminants,” in Mémoires de la Société de physique et (d’histoire naturelle de Genève, 4 (1828), 60-66; “Recherches physiologiques et chimiques sur la nutrition du foetus,” ibid., 9 (1841), 235-260, written with A. Morin; “Sur la formation des organes de la circulation et du sang chez les batraciens,” in Annales des sciences naturelles (Zoologie), I (1844), 193-229, written with H. Lebert; and “Observations sur le développement du coeur chez le poulet,” in Comptes rendus…. de r Académie des sciences, 24 (1847), 291-292, written with H. Lebert.

II. Secondary Literature. Writings on Prevost include H. Lebert, “Éloge du Dr. Prevost,” in Mémoires de la Société de biologic, 2 (1850), 60-65; P. E. Schazmann, Un ami genevois de Stendahl: le Dr. J. L. Prevost (Geneva, 1936); and L. A. Gosse and T. Herpin, “Notice biogra-phique sur le Dr. J. L. Prevost,” in Bibliothéque universelle de Genève, 4th sen, 15 (1850), 265-300.

P. E. Pilet

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Prevost, Jean-Louis

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