Tiny individuals hidden in the human seed

Homunculus depicted inside a human sperm. Woodcut from the treatise
diopter testby Nicolas Hartsoeker, Dutch microscopist of the XVII
e century. Granger/Bridgeman Images

IN THE ATTIC OF SCIENCE (4/6) – After the invention of the microscope, naturalists believe they see miniature individuals in spermatozoa. Others claim that it is the egg that contains all the generations to come. Diving into the world of animalcules.

How are diseases born? What is at the center of the Earth? What is fire? Throughout history, man has tried to explain the world to himself… and he has often been wrong. Le Figaro tells you about some of the trial and error that made science.

Shortly after the invention of the microscope, European naturalists took advantage of the instrument to observe the living and forged theories of reproduction which, today, can give rise to smiles. “That doesn’t mean that our predecessors were stupid! », warns Matthew Cobb, a biologist at the University of Manchester. It’s necessary “replace these findings in the context and theories of the time and not judge retrospectively”insists Stéphane Tirard, professor of epistemology at Nantes University.

In 1677, the observation of spermatozoa, qualified as “animalcules”, was reported for the first time by Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, from a family of Dutch drapers. Inspired by a medical student…

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