Theodor Schwann: Discovery, Cell Theory & Contributions

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

Theodor Schwann is one of the most reverenced scientists in history. We will discuss his impactful discoveries, his portion of the cell theory and other contributions to science and society.

Theodor Schwann

There has been a plethora of scientists over recent centuries. Some make small contributions to science, while others make a much bigger impact in science. One scientist that has had a very long-lasting and profound impact in science is Theodor Schwann. He was a prized German scientist with many discoveries and contributions under his belt. Let's discuss some of those now.

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  • 0:04 Theodor Schwann
  • 0:27 Schwann's Discoveries
  • 2:01 Cell Theory
  • 3:18 Schwann's Contributions
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Schwann's Discoveries

Theodor Schwann focused his studies for many years on the body as an anatomist and physiologist. The next time you're enjoying your favorite meal, he might pop into your mind. That's because he discovered an enzyme in the stomach called pepsin. Pepsin is very instrumental to the digestion of proteins in the stomach. Prior to Schwann's discovery, scientists were only aware of hydrochloric acid being present in the stomach to cause digestion of food.

Adults all over the world enjoy drinking alcohol in the form of wine, beer, and spirits. It was Theodor Schwann that discovered what's required for sugar to ferment, or turn into alcohol. It was thought that the process of sugar fermentation occurred due to the loss of electrons during a chemical reaction. Well, Schwann discovered that fermentation actually occurs due to yeast converting the sugar into alcohol. This caused changes in more places than just the science community. The process of fermentation using yeast is still used today.

One of his other discoveries isn't one you would readily think about, but it pointed to some cells that are very pertinent in allowing your brain to communicate with your body and vice versa. When Schwann was studying the nervous system, he of course observed the nerve cells that other scientists had also seen. But he looked beyond viewing the nerve cell as one cell and studied it closer. This is how he discovered the cells that are wrapped around the nerve cells that help allow nerve signals to be transmitted. These cells were named after him and therefore called, Schwann cells. You may also hear them called neurilemma cells as well which basically describes their function.

Cell Theory

Outside of having cells named after him, he's most notoriously known for his part in the cell theory. This is the theory that states that ''all living organisms are made up of cells and all cells come from pre-existing cells.'' Now, Schwann doesn't get credit for the entire cell theory, but he did earn his credit for the first part of the theory.

Several other scientists already discovered various types of cells, to include plant, bacterial, and blood cells. So the science community was aware that cells existed. These discoveries remained rather independent, though, and no one put together the big picture.

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