Diffusive insights: On the disagreement of Christian Bohr and August Krogh at the centennial of the seven little Devils

Albert Gjedde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The year 2010 is the centennial of the publication of the "Seven Little Devils" in the predecessor of Acta Physiologica. In these seven papers, August and Marie Krogh sought to refute Christian Bohr's theory that oxygen diffusion from the lungs to the circulation is not entirely passive but rather facilitated by a specific cellular activity substitute to secretion. The subjects of the present reevaluation of this controversy are Christian Bohr, Professor and Doctor of Medicine (1855-1911), nominated three times for the Nobel Prize; August Krogh, Doctor of Philosophy (1874-1949), Christian Bohr's assistant and later Nobel Prize laureate (1920); and Marie Krogh, née Jørgensen, Doctor of Medicine and wife of August Krogh (1874 -1943). The controversy concerned is the transport of oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream: are passive transport and diffusion capacity together sufficient to secure the oxygen supply in all circumstances or is there an additional specific ("energy consuming" or "active") mechanism responsible for the transport of oxygen from the alveoli into the bloodstream? The present discussion purports to show that the contestants' views were closer than the parties themselves and posterity recognized. Posterity has judged the dispute unilaterally from the Nobel laureate's point of view, but it is evident that August Krogh's Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of a cellular activity (Christian Bohr's expression), represented by Krogh's discovery of capillary recruitment. Christian Bohr appears to have been correct in the narrower sense that the diffusion capacity at rest is not great enough to explain the transport during work; a special mechanism intervenes and optimizes the conditions under which diffusion acts. August Krogh, of course, was right in the wider sense that the transport mechanism itself is always entirely passive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-185
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Advances in Physiology Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Diffusion
  • Oxygen
  • Pulmonary circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

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