Foundations | Biology's Renaissance Man

Courtesy of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

I don't cite papers that are more than one hundred years old, but Joseph Leidy's (1823-1891) name keeps coming up. Although he published more than 400 papers, he's not known today. That's mainly because he never made the sweeping generalizations that tend to make scientists famous. He was a paleontologist, botanist, zoologist, medical doctor, and anatomist. For us, though, his most important contribution was as the discoverer of the termite hindgut protists and bacteria on which we work today. He observed nature with a fascination bordering on devotion and communicated his thoughts in a masterly way. The drawing of the spine (above), is as precise as if it were a photograph. Above all, though, Leidy's spirit set him apart: 'How can life be tiresome as long as there is still a new rhizopod undescribed?' I agree."


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