J Integr Plant Biol. ›› 2017, Vol. 59 ›› Issue (5): 292-310.DOI: 10.1111/jipb.12532

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What actually is the Münch hypothesis? A short history of assimilate transport by mass flow

Michael Knoblauch* and Winfried S. Peters*   

  1. School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, USA
  • Received:2017-02-13 Accepted:2017-03-07 Published:2017-03-09
  • About author:**Correspondence: E-mail: Michael Knoblauch (knoblauch@wsu.edu), Winfried S. Peters (petersw@ipfw.edu)


In the 1920s, the German forestry scientist Ernst Münch postulated that photo-assimilate transport is a mass flow driven by osmotically induced pressure gradients between source organs (high turgor) and sink organs (lower turgor). Two crucial components of Münch's hypothesis, the translocation by mass flow from sources to sinks and the osmotic mechanism of pressure flow, were established notions at the time, but had been developed by two institutionally separated groups of scholars. A conceptual separation of whole-plant biology from cellular physiology had followed the institutional separation of forestry science from botany in German-speaking central Europe during the so-called Humboldtian reforms, and was reinforced by the delayed institutionalization of plant physiology as an academic discipline. Münch did not invent a novel concept, but accomplished an integration of the organism-focused and the cell-focused research traditions, reducing the polarization that had evolved when research universities emerged in central Europe. Post-Münch debates about the validity of his hypothesis focused increasingly on the suitability of available research methodologies, especially the electron microscope and the proper interpretation of the results it produced. The present work reconstructs the influence of the dynamic scientific and non-scientific context on the history of the Münch hypothesis.

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