German plant geneticist, whose breeding experiments contributed to the vindication of Mendel's genetic principles and helped establish the science of genetics.
Born in Munich, Correns suffered from tuberculosis in his youth and was orphaned when only seventeen. In spite of this, he graduated from the University of Munich in 1889 and three years later became botany instructor at Tubingen University. His researches were wide-ranging, covering cell wall growth, floral morphology, and vegetatve reproduction in mosses and liverworts. But it was his series of experimental crosses using different maize and pea varieties that was to prove most significant. Correns established that certain characters, e g seed colour, were inherited by successive generations according to simple ratios. By 1899 he had arrived at a hypothesis to explain his results. Surveying the literature, he found Mendel's results, which agreed with his own, and in 1900 published his own paper (independently of de Vries and Erich von Tschermak (1871–1962), who published similar findings in the same year) affirming the genetic principles of Mendel.
Thereafter, all Correns's energies were focused on plant genetics. In 1902 he became assistant professor of botany at Pfeffer's Institute, Leipzig, then (1909) professor of botany at Münster University, and finally, in 1913, the first director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology, Berlin. During this period, Correns made a notable study of variegation in plants. He discovered a strain of Mirabilis jalapa that showed non-Mendelian inheritance of leaf colour. He proposed that cytoplasmic hereditary determinants were responsible, a suggestion later borne out by the discovery of DNA in chloroplasts and mitochondria.
Most of Correns's work was published only in German and has been slow to gain its deserved international recognition.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.