August Weismann

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Weismann, August

(ou`go͝ost vīs`män), 1834–1914, German biologist. He taught zoology at the Univ. of Freiburg from 1866 to 1912. He is known as the originator of the germ-plasm theory of heredityheredity,
transmission from generation to generation through the process of reproduction in plants and animals of factors which cause the offspring to resemble their parents. That like begets like has been a maxim since ancient times.
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. His doctrine, formerly called Weismannism, stresses the unbroken continuity of the germ plasm and the nonheritability of acquired characteristics. His works include The Germ-Plasm (1892, tr. 1893) and a series of essays translated into English as Essays upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems (2d ed., 2 vol., 1891–92).


See G. J. Romanes, An Examination of Weismannism (1903).

Weismann, August


Born Jan. 17, 1834, in Frankfurt-am-Main; died Nov. 5, 1914, in Freiburg. German zoologist and theoretician of the evolutionary school. He studied in Göttingen (1852-56). In 1863 he became assistant professor, and from 1873 to 1912 he was a professor at the University of Freiburg.

Weismann’s early work was devoted to the histology of muscle tissue, the development of insects, and the biology of freshwater organisms. Beginning at the end of the 1860’s he shifted his main efforts to theoretical studies devoted to the defense, corroboration, and development of the teachings of C. Darwin. Taking a position of materialism, Weismann defended the mechanistic concept of life phenomena. He argued against vitalism and rejected Lamarckism, which recognized the inherently expedient response of living organisms to the impact of the environment and the inheritance of changes arising in this way. Weismann correctly stated that the problem of the inheritance of acquired characteristics could only be resolved through experimentation, and he proved experimentally the noninheritance of mechanical injuries. Weismann was the author of the speculative theories of inheritance and of individual development, which were inaccurate in details but which anticipated in principle the contemporary notions of the discrete nature of the carriers of hereditary information and their links with chromosomes. He was also the author of a concept of the role of inherited instincts in the individual’s development.

At the end of the 1940’s, Weismann’s teachings, which he called neo-Darwinism, were erroneously pronounced unscientific and reactionary by certain Soviet geneticists. In actuality, Weismann’s teachings were a further development of Darwin’s theory of evolution.


Das Keimplasma: Eine Theorie der Vererbung. Jena, 1892.
Vorgänge über Deszendenztheorie, 3rd ed. Jena, 1913.


Gaupp, E. August Weismann: Sein Leben und sein Werk. Jena, 1917.
Löther, R. “August Weismann—Wegbereiter des Darwinismus und wissenschaftlicher Vererbunglehre.” Wissenschaft und Fortschritt, 1963, vol. 13, no. 10.


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