Alfonso Luis Herrera: Biography And Contributions

Alfonso Luis Herrera (1868-1942) was a Mexican biologist, pharmacist, and naturalist. He founded several institutions in Mexico City and investigated the origin of life in an attempt to develop a new experimental science that he called Plasmogeny. 
Starting in 1895, Herrera published scientific works in various magazines, as well as catalogs of the collections of vertebrates and anthropology for museums.

During this time he also held various positions within the National Institute of Medicine until, in 1900, he was appointed professor of parasitology at the School of Agriculture. He also managed to organize the creation of an Agricultural Parasitology Commission that he directed until 1907.

Alfonso Luis Herrera [CC BY 4.0 (]

Herrera published works on a wide variety of topics, such as zoology, botany, geology, physics, and chemistry. His work contributed significantly to the understanding of the origin of life through the conception of the idea of ​​plasmogenesis and the explanation of the laws of variation and adaptation.

In 1912, he finalized the publication of his multi-volume work on the ornithology of Mexico, in which more than a thousand species are described. In the field of botany, he was part of the research group that produced the third edition of the Mexican Pharmacopeia.

Article index

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    • 1.1

      Personal life

    • 1.2


  • two


  • 3


  • 4



Personal life

Alfonso Luis Herrera was born on August 3, 1868, in Mexico City. His mother was Adela López Hernández and his father Alfonso Herrera Fernández de San Salvador, a renowned naturalist who was also director of the National Preparatory School. Herrera was the second of three siblings.

In 1897 he met María Estrada Delgado with whom he married and had two children: Rafael Faustino Juan Herrera Estrada and Lucía Melesia Herrera Estrada.

In addition, he was a great friend of Alfredo Dugès, an important Mexican naturalist, zoologist, and botanist of French descent. With him he shared a wide knowledge of science. Not only were they friends personally, but their friendship transcended into academics.

Alfonso Luis Herrera died on September 17, 1942, in Mexico City.


Herrera studied Pharmacy at the National School of Medicine, from which he graduated in 1889. In that year he had already published several works in zoology and ornithology. He was a professor at the National Preparatory School, the Military School and the Normal School for Teachers of Mexico.

Starting in 1895, he published scientific works in various magazines and catalogs of the museum’s collections of vertebrates and anthropology. In addition, he held different positions within the National Institute of Medicine.

Later, in 1900, he was appointed professor of parasitology at the School of Agriculture and managed to organize the creation of an Agricultural Parasitology Commission which he directed until 1907.

On the other hand, Herrera organized the direction of biological studies of the Ministry of Agriculture. During 25 years he carried out more than 4000 experiments in his laboratory.

Likewise, he was one of the greatest collaborators in the creation of the Chapultepec Zoo in 1923. He was also a forerunner of the Institute of Biology of the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). However, due to differences in lines of thought and approach with Isaac Ochoterena, he stopped being part of the institute.

He was the creator of the Botanical Garden in 1922 and, that same year, he taught Natural Sciences classes at the National School of Higher Studies. There he taught Enrique Beltrán Castillo, the only student who managed to graduate as a biologist.


Herrera developed an experimental science called Plasmogeny, concerned with the origin of protoplasm, the living material from which all animals and plants are made.

He argued that, as life is the result of purely physical-chemical phenomena, it would be possible to create in the laboratory a structure with properties similar to those of natural protoplasm from relatively simple organic and inorganic compounds.

To this end, he conducted experiments to create artificial cells. He managed to form a substance called sulfobios, which was nothing more than a mixture of oils, gasoline and resins; in order to obtain microstructures for study. These microstructures had an internal organization, but were unable to divide.

Furthermore, through his investigations, he was able to demonstrate the abiotic synthesis of organic compounds, but he was unable to define the boundary between living matter and inanimate matter.

As a forerunner of natural sciences in his country, Herrera carried out works such as The Mexican Cactaceae Exhibition  and Acclimatization of useful plants for the development of man and his activities .

He was also a tireless fighter against the extinction of species. Likewise, it was his special intervention that allowed President Obregón to establish a 10-year moratorium on the hunting of bighorn sheep and pronghorn, also known as American antelope.

On the other hand, on some issues he was radical and one of his criticisms of the National Museum had to do with the need for museums to show visitors philosophical questions about the facts of life, and not just the classification of organisms. .


Among his outstanding works are, Notions of Biology (1904) and Biology in Mexico during a century (1921).

In addition, he was able to neatly publish works such as:

-Catalogue of the fish collection of the National Museum (1896).

-Catalogue of glass imitations of various invertebrate animals of the National Museum (1897).

-Catalogue of the collection of mammals of the National Museum (1898).

-La Vie surles Hantux Poseus (1899). The importance of this work has to do with the award it received from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

– Bulletin of the Commission of Agricultural Parasitology (1903). This work was of the utmost importance since in it he left valuable articles on how to combat pests of various plants and livestock.

-Catalogue of the National Museum’s collection of birds (1904).

-Notion de biologies et de plasmogénies (1906).

-The powder of the chrysanthemum and the plants that produce it (1907).

-Botanical Garden (1921).

-Biology and Plasmogeny, Herrero Hermanos y Suc., (1924).

-Botánica, Herrero Hermanos y Suc., (1924).

-Zoology, Herrero Hermanos y Suc., (1924).

-Mineralogy and Geology Herrero Hermanos y Suc., (1924).

-The Plasmogeny: new science of the origin of life (1932).

-A New Theory of the Origin and Nature of Life (1942).


  1. Alfonso Luis Herrera. (2019). Taken from
  2. Herrera, Alfonso Luis (1868-1942). (2019). Taken from
  3. Herrera, Alfonso Luís | (2019). Taken from
  4. LEDESMA-MATEOS, BARAHONA ECHEVERRÍA. (2019). Alfonso Luis Herrera and Isaac Ochoterena: the institutionalization of biology in Mexico. Taken from
  5. Ledesma-Mateos. (2019). Alfonso Luis Herrera and the Beginnings of Evolutionism and Studies in the Origin of Life in Mexico. – PubMed – NCBI. Taken from

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