Abraham Trembley – Naturalist

Abraham Trembley (born today, 3 September 1710 – 12 May 1784) was a Swiss naturalist. He is best known for being the first to study freshwater polyps or hydra and for being among the first to develop experimental zoology. His mastery of experimental method has led some historians of science to credit him as the “father of biology

While Trembley thought he had discovered a new species, Leeuwenhoek had in fact first published on hydra in 1702, describing them as a type of plant.

Trembley’s findings were published in a 1744 book, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire d’un genre de polypes d’eau douce, translated into German in 1791 as Abhandlungen zur Geschichte einer Polypenart des süssen Wassers.

(above from Wikipedia)

“Although the technique of grafting animal tissues together is widely used in experimental biology and in medicine, few scientists know how and where the technique originated. Interestingly, among those who rightfully credit Abraham Trembley of Geneva with carrying out the first animal grafts on the freshwater hydra (Trembley, 1744), some report incorrectly how the very first of these grafts were made (e.g.,Baker, 1953). In this review we describe the first animal grafts as presented by Trembley in his Memoires(1744), and show how they originated from his experiments on turning hydra inside out. Where appropriate, we use Trembley’s own words in direct translation or in paraphrase,together with copies of the original illustrations published in 1744.

By describing the details of his experiments and the thoughts behind them, we
hope to introduce many biologists, who are but dimly aware of Trembley, to a
remarkable figure in the history of biology. Unlike most of his peers, Trembley
conducted and reported his experiments with a detail, caution, logic, and rigor rare
for his time. In recognition of his astounding discoveries, he was elected to the Royal
Society of London and in 1743 was awarded its prestigious Copley Medal, considered
then to be one of science’s highest honors.”

– Read the complete study by Howard M. Lenhoff and Syllvia O. Lenhoff (1984) here.

– Read his entry at the History of Regeneration Research from the Odelburg Lab at the University of Utah

– See his continued influence in this abstract: Challenge to the Specialist: Abraham Trembley’s Approach to the Organism – 1744 and Today.

Addendum: A translation of Trembley’s memoires, also by Howard and Sylvia Lenhoff, is avaliable at Amazon.


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