Giovanni Battista Grassi


Giovanni Battista Grassi : biography

27 March1854 – 4 May 1925


Grassi was born in Rovellasca, Italy, in what is now the Province of Como. His father Luigi Grassi was a municipal official, and mother Costanza Mazzuchelli was a noted peasant of unusual intelligence. His early education was at Saronno.

From 1872 he studied medicine at the University of Pavia under professors Camillo Golgi and Giulio Bizzozero and graduated in 1878. After graduation he worked first at Messina in the Naples Zoological Station and the Oceanographic Station founded by Nicolaus Kleinenberg and Anton Dohrn where he studied Chaetognatha, then completed his training at the University of Heidelberg in Germany under the guidance of Karl Gegenbaur and Otto Bütschli. While in Heidelberg, he married Maria Koenen.

In 1883 he became Professor of Comparative Zoology at the University of Catania, studying cestodes, the life cycle of the European eel (Catania) and the Moray eel (Rome). Also in Catania he began to study entomology and wrote a student text "The Origin and Descent of Myriapods and Insects" in addition to scientific papers. He also began to study malaria working with Raimondo Feletti on malaria, especially bird malaria.

In 1895 he was appointed professor of comparative anatomy at Sapienza University of Rome, where he would spent the rest of his life. He joined Angelo Celli, Amico Bignami, Giuseppe Bastianelli and Ettore Marchiafava, who were working on malaria in districts around Rome. Grassi was the group’s entomologist. The group announced at the session of the Accademia dei Lincei on December 4, 1889 that a healthy man in a non-malarial zone had contracted tertian malaria after being bitten by an experimentally infected Anopheles claviger. Between 1900 and 1902, Grassi, Gustavo Pittaluga and Giovanni Noè made intensive sudies of malaria at Agro Portuense, at Fiumicino, on the Tiber, and on the plain of Capaccio, near Paestum.

In 1902, Grassi abandoned his study of malaria and began work on the sandfly responsible for Leishmaniasis (Phlebotomus papatasii) and on a serious insect pest of the grape vine (Phylloxera vastatrix ). Endemic malaria returned to Italy during and after the First World War and Grassi resumed his mosquito studies.

He died in Rome in 1925, while reading the proof of his last paper, Lezione sulla malaria.


He won the Royal Society’s Darwin Medal in 1896 for his contribution to the study of termites.

He was made a senator in Italy by King Victor Emmanuel Kruif, Paul Microbe Hunters 1956 ed. Pocket Books. pg 291.

A stamp commemorating Grassi with his portrait on it was issued by the Italian post office in 1955. at