Senescence, Regeneration and Immortality: Giuseppe Levi and the Phenomenon of Life


  • Ariane Dröscher History of science and techniques, Dept. of Culture and Civilization, University of Verona


Giuseppe Levi , Cell culture, Senescence, Death


Although Giuseppe Levi is mainly remembered for his neurohistological studies and his mastery of cytological techniques, the phenomena of life and death, of senescence and immortality constituted the main threads of his scientific work. Since he was a student he had a dynamic and holistic conception of structure and directed his anatomical attention towards the study of development and growth, identifying in mitosis the mechanism of immortality. Yet, for him, life and death were not inherent properties of cells but induced by external factors. He broke with the medical tradition declaring that senescence and death were not pathological but the final physiological steps of growth. From 1916 on he became one of the pioneers of cell culturing and from 1928 of microcinematography, applying both successfully in his investigations of cell individuality and of the structural transformations taking place within cells during lifetime.