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Famous Scientists: Walther Flemming and the Discovery of Mitosis

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 4/27/2009

Walther Flemming's discovery of mitosis is considered one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.

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    Walther Flemming was born on April 21, 1843 in Sachsenberg. Flemming's father, Carl Friedrich Flemming, was a psychiatrist. He studied medicine at the University of Rostock. and he graduated in 1868. After finishing his studies, Flemming worked as a physician in the military and later taught at the University of Prague. In 1876, he took a position as a professor at the University of Kiev and taught anatomy. Flemming was named the director of the Anatomical Institute, and he worked there until he died on August 4, 1905.

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    Discovery of Mitosis

    Walther Flemming was responsible for the discovery of mitosis, which refers to cell division. This is the process by which cells multiply and reproduce. Through the process of mitosis, the genetic material in the parent cell is divided and copied into two daughter cells.

    Flemming used aniline dyes to isolate a substance that he called "chromatin." Chromatin is made up of protein, DNA, and RNA, and is a key component in making DNA smaller so that it can fit into a cell. It also strengthens the DNA so that it can go through the process of mitosis.

    He discovered that chromatin was connected to chromosomes. Flemming also studied the process of cell division, and was responsible for naming it mitosis, after the Greek word for thread. He noted that there were a number of stages of mitosis. Flemming used the gills and fins of salamanders as material to study.

    The results of Flemming's research on the stages of mitosis were published in a book entitled, "Cell Substance, Nucleus and Cell Division" in 1882. Based on his research, Flemming concluded that each cell's nuclei comes from another cell nucleus.

    Walther Flemming's discovery of mitosis is considered one of the 100 most significant scientific developments of all time. It is also included on the list of the 10 most important discoveries in the field of cell biology.