Alexander Gurwitsch was born September 26, 1874 in Poltava, not far from Kharkov in the Ukraine. He was the son of a Jewish provincial lawyer. While his family was both artistic and intellectual, not one among them was a scientist or a physician.
Gurwitsch wanted to become a professional painter, so left to enroll in Munich's famous Art Academy. As fate would have it, however, he failed the entrance examination - and so decided to study medicine.
A few years into his medical training, he rotated through the laboratory of the great histologist, Karl Kupfter. There, Gurwitsch developed a primary interest in embryology (an unusual thing to do in those days). In 1895, he published his first paper on the action of different chemicals in gastrulation in frogs, becoming the first to describe the phenomenon of lithium-induced exogastrulation.
Gurwitsch graduated from Munich University in 1897, having also studied under A.A. Boehm. After graduation, he worked until 1907 in the histology labs of the universities of Strasbourg and Bern - it was during this time he met his future wife and lifelong collaborator, Russian-born Lydia Felicine. In those early years, Gurwitsch gradually obtained an international reputation as a skillful and well-trained histologist, completing in 1904 the important monograph Morphologie und Biologie der Zelle.
Apart from medicine, Gurwitsch also had a deep interest in physics. One of his closest friends was a relative of the same age, Leonid Mandelstam. Mandelstam later became a famous physicist and member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, as well as the founder of the Moscow school of theoretical physics.
It was Mandelstam who explained to Gurwitsch Einstein's newly published theory of relativity and other developments in physics - instrumental in Gurwitsch's eventual creation of biological field theory.
During the next decade, Gurwitsch contributed a series of landmark papers proposing that the orientation and division of cells was random at the local level, but rendered coherent by an overall “field” which obeyed the regular inverse square law - an enterprise that required extensive statistical analysis. In 1907, he published his general treatise Atlas and Outline of Embryology of Vertebrates and of Man.
After the 1917 revolution, Gurwitsch fell upon hard times and accepted the Chair of Histology at Taurida University, the chief seat of learning of the Crimean Peninsula. Here, he and his wife spent seven happy years.
In 1923, Gurwitsch demonstrated that when two onion roots are situated in a common plane, in such a way that the growing tip (meristem) of the first root points toward a point X along the axis of the second root, at a distance of several millimeters, then the frequency of cell division (mitosis) was increased in the region of X, compared to the opposite side of the second root.
This "mitogenetic effect" (as Gurwitsch called it) was not affected when a transparent quartz window was placed between the two roots, but disappeared when he replaced the quartz window by ordinary glass or opaque materials. By a variety of further experiments, Gurwitsch was able to establish that the physical agent of this stimulation of the rate of mitosis in the second root (the mitogenetic effect), was a very weak, ultraviolet light radiation emitted from the meristem of the first root.
Gurwitsch named the phenomenon mitogenetic
radiation, since he believed that this light radiation allowed the morphogenetic field to control embryonic development. His published observations, which related that cell-proliferation of an onion was accelerated by directing these rays down a tube, brought him great attention.
After many attempts at replication that produced mixed results, the idea was neglected for decades. With the development of new technologies in the later 20th century, mitogenetic radiation has received validation and renewed interest with scientists such as Fritz-Albert Popp.
Gurwitsch was Professor of Histology and Embryology at Moscow University from 1924 to 1929, but was forced to relinquish the chair when he fell afoul of the Communist party. He then directed a laboratory at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Leningrad from 1930 until 1945, but was forced to evacuate during World War II. In 1941, he was awarded a Stalin Prize for his mitogenetic radiation work, and its apparent ability to cheaply and simply diagnose cancer. He then became director of the Institute of Experimental Biology in Leningrad from 1945 to 1948.
When Trofim Lysenko's rose to power in 1948, Gurwitsch was expelled from the directorship of the Institute of Experimental Biology. Following his expulsion, he began writing his last book, Analytical Biology.
The final years of Alexander Gurwitsch’s life were rather sad. In 1951, his beloved wife Lydia died, and the general political and scientific atmosphere in the USSR was very gloomy. Though Gurwitsch continued to elaborate his field theory up until the very end, his research on mitogenetic radiation continued only due to the enthusiasm of his daughter Anna.
After Gurwitsch’ death on July 27, 1954, Anna Gurwitsch, with a small staff and minimal facilities, continued her father’s groundbreaking work on mitogenetic rays.
Gurwitsch was clearly ahead of his time, pointing out that photons stimulate cell divisions, and becoming the first (in 1922) to show evidence of a weak, but permanent photon emission in the optical range from biological systems.
Biophoton emission from biological living systems is now a well-established universal phenomenon (it is the spontaneous emission of ultraweak light emanating from all living systems, including humans).
It took 40 years, but at last, in 1991, Gurwitsch's final book was published. In 1994, on what would have been his 120th birthday, Moscow State University held the first International Alexander Gurwitsch Conference on Non-Equilibrium and Coherent Systems in Biology, Biophysics and Biotechnology. This Conference was attended by several dozen investigators from countries such as Russia, Germany, China, Italy, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, who discussed several of the scientific problems worked on by Gurwitsch (qq.v. Beloussov and Popp, 1995).
The tenacity of Anna Gurwitsch, together with the development of the photon counter multiplier, confirmed the phenomenon of biophotons in 1962. The observation was duplicated in a Western laboratory by Quickenden and Que Hee in 1974. In the same year, Dr. V. P. Kaznacheyev announced that his research team in Novosibirsk had detected intercellular communication by means of these rays.
Another scientist, Fritz-Albert Popp, has spent most his life researching biophoton emission of living organisms and has shown they exhibit coherent patterns.
According to Fritz-Albert Popp’s research, while there is now agreement about the universality of this effect for all living systems, there is still no agreement in the area of interpretation. Most groups believe that this spontaneous photon emission originates from free radical reactions within the cells, but proof for that is still lacking. A group of German physicists, starting in 1972 at the University Marburg, followed an opposite hypothesis, i.e., that “biophoton emission”, as a subject of quantum optics, must be assigned to a coherent photon field within the living system, responsible for intra and intercellular communication and regulation of biological functions such as biochemical activities, cell growth and differentiation.
Gurwitsch was a diligent researcher, prolific writer, and one of the greatest biology theoreticians of the 20th century.
Essentially, it was his conception of mitogenetic radiation (biological field), developed in connection with countless experimental studies of embryology, morphogenesis, and histology, which originally led him to hypothesize the existence of some sort of distant, radiative interaction between cells.
Standing on Gurwitsch's shoulders, numerous scientists are beginning to better understand how photons affect cell-to-cell communication - and that we are all beings of light.
References and Selected Works on Biophotons and Biocommunication
• Chang, J. J., Fisch, J., & Popp, F. A., Eds. (1998). Biophotons. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
• Chang, J. J., & Popp, F. A. (1998). Biological organization: A possible mechanism based on the coherence of biophotons. In Chang, J. J., Fisch, J., & Popp, F. A. (Eds.), Biophotons (pp. 217–227). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1907). Atlas und Grundriss der Embryologie der Wirbeiliere und des Menschen. J.F. Lehmann, Munich.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1910). Über Determinierung, Normierung und Zufall in der Ontogenese. Arch. Entw. Mech. 30: 133-193.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1912). Die Vererbung als Verwirklichungsvorgang. Bioi. Zbl. 22: 458-486.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1914). Der Vererlungsmechanisms der Form. W. Roux Arch. Entwmech. Org. 39:516.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1922). Über den Begrlff des embryonalen Feldes. Arch. Entw Mech. 51: 388-415.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1922). Weiterbildung und Verallgemeinerung des Feldbegriffes. Arch. Entw. Mech. 122: 433-454.
• Gurwitsch, A.G (1930). Die histologischen Grundlagen der Biologie. Fisher, Jena.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (with the collaboration of Gurwitsch, l) (1932). Die mitogenetische Strahlung. Zugleich zweiter Band der Probleme der Zellteilung. Julius Springer, Berlin.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1944). A Biological Field Theory. Sovietsk.aye Nauka; Moscow. (Russian).
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1947). Une theorie du champ biologique cellulaire. Bibliotheca Biotheoretica. Series DV, leiden.
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1948). A concept of whole as related to the biological field theory. In Works on Mitogenesis and the Theory of the Biologlcal Field. USSR Acad. Med. Press; Moscow, pp. 141-147 (in Russian).
• Gurwitsch, A.G. (1991). Principles of Analytical Biology and the Theory of Cellular Fields. Nauka. Moscow. p. 288.
• Popp, F. A. (1976). Biophotonen. Heidelberg, Germany: Verlag für Medizin Dr. Ewald Fischer. Popp, F. A. (1984). Biologie des Lichts. Berlin and Hamburg, Germany: Paul Parey.
• Popp, F. A., Becker, G., Konig, H., & Peschka, W., Eds. (1978). Elektromagnetic Bioinformation, pp. 107–141. Munich, Germany: Urban und Schwarzenberg.
• Popp, F. A., & Chang, J. J. (1998). The physical background and the informational character of biophoton emission. In Chang, J. J., Fish, J., & Popp, F. A. (Eds.), Biophotons (pp. 238–250). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
• Popp, F. A., Chang, J. J., Gu, Q., & Ho, M. W. (1994). Nonsubstantial Bioelectrodynamics and Biocommunication. Singapore: World Scientific.
• Popp, F. A., Gurwitsch, A. A., Inaba, H., Slawinski, J., Cilento, G., VanWijk, R., Chwirot, W. B., & Nagl, W. (1988). Biophoton emission. A multi-author review. Experientia, 88, 543–600.
• Popp, F. A., Li, K. H., & Gu, Q. (1992). Recent Advances in Biophoton Research and Its Applications. Singapore: World Scientific.
• VanWijk, R., & Schamhart, D. H. J., (1988). Regulatory aspects of low intensity photon emission. Experientia, 44, 586–593.
• VanWijk, R., Tilbury, R. N., Slawinski, J., Kochel, B., Gu, Q., & Lilius, E. M. (1992). Biophoton emission, stress and disease. A multi-author review. Experientia, 48, 1029–1102.
• VanWijk, R., & Van Aken, J. (1991). Light-induced photon emission by rat hepatocytes and he- patoma cells. Cell Biophysics, 18, 15–29.
• VanWijk, R., & Van Aken, J. (1992). Photon emission in tumor biology. Experientia, 48, 1092–1102.
• VanWijk, R., Van Aken, J. M., Laerdal, H. E., & Souren, J. E. M. (1995a). Relaxation dynamics of light-induced photon emission by mammalian cells and nuclei. Progress in Biomedical Optics, Europto Series, 2627, 176–185.
• VanWijk, R., Van Aken, J. M., Mei, W., & Popp, F. A. (1993). Light-induced photon emission by mammalian cells. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, 18, 75–79.
• VanWijk, R., Van Aken, J. M., & Souren, J. E. M. (1995b). Ultraweak delayed photon emission and light scattering of different mammalian cell types. In Beloussov, L. V., & Popp, F. A. (Eds.), Biophotonics (pp. 221–232). Moscow: Bioinform Services.
• VanWijk, R., Van Aken, J. M., & Souren, J. E. M. (1997). An evaluation of delayed luminescence of mammalian cells. Trends in Photochemistry and Photobiology, 4, 87–97.
Mitogenetic Radiation and Photo-Luminescense
• Quickenden, T. I., & Hee, S. S. Q. (1974). Weak luminescence from the yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae and the existence of mitogenetic radiation. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 60(2), 764-770.
• Rattemeyer, M., Popp, F. A., & Nagl, W. (1981). Evidence of photon emission from DNA in living systems. Naturwissenschaften, 68(11), 572-573.