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Forgotten research from 19th century : science should not follow fashion
AuthorGaller, Stefan
Published in
Journal of Muscle Research and Cell Motility, Amsterdam, 2015, Vol. 36, Issue 1, page 5-9
PublishedElsevier, 2015
Document typeJournal Article
Keywords (EN)Sliding filament theory / History of muscle research / Muscle birefringence / Cross-striated muscle
URNurn:nbn:at:at-ubs:3-3507 Persistent Identifier (URN)
 The work is publicly available
Forgotten research from 19th century [0.36 mb]
Abstract (English)

The fine structure of cross-striated muscle and its changes during contraction were known already in considerable detail in the 19th century. This knowledge was the result of studying birefringence properties of muscle fibres under the polarization microscope, a method mainly established by Brücke (Denk Kais Akad Wiss Math Naturwiss Cl 15:69-84, 1858) in Vienna, Austria. The knowledge was seemingly forgotten in the first half of the 20th century before it was rediscovered in 1954. This rediscovery was essential for the formulation of the sliding filament theory which represents the commonly accepted concept of muscle contraction (A.F. Huxley and Niedergerke, Nature 173:971-973, 1954; H.E. Huxley and Hanson, Nature 173:973-976, 1954). The loss of knowledge was the result of prevailing views within the scientific community which could be attributed to "fashion": it was thought that the changes of cross-striations, which were observed under the microscope, were inconsequential for contraction since other types of movements like cell crawling and smooth muscle contraction were not associated with similar changes of the fine structure. The basis for this assumption was the view that all types of movements associated with life must be caused by the same mechanisms. Furthermore, it was assumed that the light microscopy was of little use, because the individual molecules that carry out life functions cannot be seen under the light microscope. This unfortunate episode of science history teaches us that the progress of science can severely be retarded by fashion.

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