The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, began in 1888 with one building housing researchers upstairs and students in a shared lab and lecture space downstairs. For the first two years, instruction took the form of general lectures covering a range of topics in zoology. In addition, the trustees offered some public lectures in Boston to raise funds for the lab.
In 1890 the lab began a new tradition that has continued every year since. They began a series of evening lectures intended to be accessible to a wide audience of those interested in biology. Eventually these became known as the Friday Evening Lectures, and since the opening of the auditorium in the Lillie Building in 1924 (named after second Director Frank Rattray Lillie) the lectures have been held there. Every Friday evening during the summer season, the community of scientists, students, and members of the public interested in science stream into the auditorium for their weekly lecture, then move to the reception held afterward. These lectures are a high point of the MBL’s summer of science.
Throughout the 1890s Charles Otis Whitman, as the MBL’s first Director, persuaded the lecturers to write up their lectures and publish them. He organized the lectures of 1890 and then 1893–1899 into volumes that appeared as a serial that both showed the larger world what the MBL offered and brought leading scientists to the lab to participate in the lectures and their publications.
The Biological Lectures Delivered at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Holl provides a useful insight into what were thought to be the driving questions of the day and what were seen as productive ways of approaching them. Some years reveal a general distribution of topics, while other years are much more focused.
For an introduction to the lectures, see Jane Maienschein’s introduction to Defining Biology. This volume offers a sampling of the lectures and also a complete list of lectures published during the 1890s. The MBL Annual Reports provide a list of every year’s lecturers and demonstrate the shifts in emphasis over time, as well as changing trends in biology.
- Maienschein, Jane, ed. Defining Biology: Lectures from the 1890s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
- Marine Biological Laboratory Annual Reports: available in the MBL Biological Bulletin Vols. 17 and 21–105 at http://www.archive.org/details/biologicalbullet01mari and beginning with 2004 at http://www.mbl.edu/governance/gov_annual_report.html.
The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, began in 1888 with one building housing researchers upstairs and students in a shared lab and lecture space downstairs. For the first two years, instruction took the form of general lectures covering a range of topics in zoology. In addition, the trustees offered some public lectures in Boston to raise funds for the lab.Created: 2008-10-24
In 1888 when students and investigators arrived in Woods Hole for the inaugural session of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), they recognized the need for a library collection of books and journals. The one wooden building on campus, later known as Old Main, housed everything, with researchers upstairs and the student laboratory downstairs. Lectures were held in one corner, and shelves held what books and journals were contributed. As the first MBL Director Charles Otis Whitman noted in his 1888 Annual Report, having a library was absolutely essential for the success of the lab and would have to be provided somehow. The initial core volumes should include reference works and textbooks, and also the important journals in the four languages thought to be essential at the time.
By the second year, Whitman’s report expressed gratitude for the many contributions to the library. For Whitman, a “comprehensive biological library” would be the foundation on which a first rate laboratory would be built. Both research and instruction depend on such a resource. This early commitment to building a comprehensive journal collection as well as collecting the most important books has paid off, so that the library has been called a “national treasure” and has long been arguably the best complete and focused collection of life science journals available.
The vision for a great library was essential in attracting donations of funds to purchase journals and books, of course, but there were also other strategies for collecting. Visitors to the lab were invited to submit reprints and other research materials. When the MBL began publishing The Biological Bulletin in 1899, they immediately established an exchange program with other journals and publishers. This exchange program was critical especially in the years of WWI and again in WW II, when few libraries had funds to purchase volumes and international cooperation was more challenging. Yet it was possible to continue publishing copies of their own publications and to exchange them later when regular mailings resumed. As a result, the MBL-WHOI (the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) library has complete runs of most journals even when other libraries are missing those difficult years. When funds were available, the MBL purchased back issues to fill in incomplete runs and binding of individual issues into volumes became a priority very quickly (as mentioned in the fifth annual report). In 1895 Whitman urged that $1000 per year was needed just to sustain the current level of library acquisition.
In the report for the years 1896–1899, Cornelia Clapp provided the first official “Report on the Library.” Clapp had been the first student to arrive at the lab in 1888 and had returned as an investigator; she also became the first woman trustee in 1910 and served in that role until her death in 1934. It is fitting that she served as first librarian, enthusiastically growing and protecting the collection that she also used. Though referred to as “Miss Cornelia M. Clapp, Librarian,” she held a PhD from Syracuse University in 1888 and another PhD from the University of Chicago, where she worked with Whitman. In her first report she acknowledged the many gifts to the lab, including the accumulating files of papers contributed by lab researchers themselves. She appealed for more funds for purchasing and binding journals. This remained the theme for many years.
At first the library collection was housed in the shelves along one end of the wooden building. One year, many of the volumes seemed to have disappeared, but the next summer they were discovered tucked up into the roof, apparently for protection from storms though not successfully protected from all the birds. As the collections continued to grow, they added to the demand for more space. Finally, when the first permanent brick building was constructed in 1914, the library had a safe and protected home. This building, funded by second MBL Director Frank Rattray Lillie’s father-in-law Charles Crane, and named the Crane Building, gave the MBL a way to demonstrate to all potential donors and supporters that the MBL intended to last forever and to make an impact with its research and teaching missions.
The library budget remained $1000 a year, and despite its new secure home, collections depended very much on donations. Individuals donated money and books, journal exchanges expanded, and the librarians persuaded publishers to donate volumes that were then put on a New Book shelf as advertising, so that visiting scientists would go back home and have their institutional libraries buy them. In 1913 H. Mc. E. Knower served as librarian and in his report strongly urged that the library needed an assistant to serve as a year-round librarian. Just having a volunteer scientist in the summer was not enough, since the collections were often left in a chaotic muddle of energetic use by the end of a season and there was nobody there during the rest of the year to straighten things out. Especially as the number of donated reprints grew, and as they received a great deal of use during the summer, it was considerable work just restoring the collection to order. Also, trying to keep on top of all the donations and exchanges during the summer alone was insufficient.
With a new building and library facility, it was time to hire a librarian. Miss May E. Scott accepted the position and developed new catalogs, formally reaccessioned all the materials, and determined that the library had over 3300 volumes, plus about 1500 reprints. During the first year of her service, the library bound over five hundred volumes, replaced missing numbers, and added many more items. With a generous donation of over 2500 duplicates from the American Museum of Natural History, the library had achieved a new level of excellence.
Through the years, major donations have come at critical times from such groups and foundations as the Carnegie Foundation, and the General Education Board ($10,000 in 1926), so that after a period of intense growth, by 1926 the library had already grown to 18, 220 volumes plus a carefully catalogued 38,000 reprints.
In 1924 the library moved to what became the five permanent stacks in the Lillie Building—a substantial brick building that extended the Crane laboratories. The building was constructed with major donations of well over one million dollars, especially from Rockefeller Foundation and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. personally, Carnegie Corporation, and Charles Crane. The tremendous collaborative success shows just how highly the MBL was regarded as a place of life science research and education.
After Jane Fessenden became Librarian, the staff and collections grew considerably, as did their use. By the 1980s, it was becoming clear that the library was gathering a substantial collection, including some very valuable books and complete runs of journals that could not be replaced. The Rare Books Room and Archives opened in the 1980s after Cathy Norton took over as Librarian. The library moved to electronic publishing, with an emphasis on providing access for scientists in a way that successfully archives publications for continued use.
The Rare Books Room and Archives contain rare books, of course, a catalog of which is available to anyone since the MBL-WHOI Library is committed to making materials available for use rather than preserving them in ways that exclude legitimate scholarly access. There are some artifacts, including a few items from courses or Albert Szent-Gyorgyi’s Nobel Prize for his work on vitamin C in Hungarian paprika peppers. The collection includes a few archival files, including some from Frank Lillie that were transferred to the MBL from the University of Chicago, as well as some notebooks, scrapbooks, and letters. And the collection has brought together valuable historical research materials into library exhibits, including the Leuckart Charts and other collections. In addition, the MBL is home to marvelous MBL Library Photograph Collections, featuring early photographs dating back to before the MBL was founded, a number of scrapbooks, and the wonderful Alfred Frances Huettner Collection.
Today the library serves both the MBL and WHOI, based on a decision to combine resources to make an internationally leading library rather than to compete in the same small village of Woods Hole. The MBL-WHOI library provides services for library researchers, some of whom draw mainly on the electronic journals, and Library Director Cathy Norton has become a leader in promoting bioinformatics and extending the use of the collections through networks of users.
As a result, one might be tempted to think that there is no reason to come to the actual MBL, since one can sit home and access modern journals on line. But this remains a vibrant place of science in the labs and in the courses. The library is a place where readers can find everything, pull it off the shelf, and see what else was going on in the same journal or at the same time. For at least the past decades, the MBL has seen a number of library readers who come precisely because they can find whatever they need “right there.” Recently, the library has added the formal category of Library Researcher, for those who come to spend a sabbatical, finish a major book project, or to collaborate with other scholars while using the library resources. The MBL-WHOI Library is very much an active place to find many kinds of wonderful materials but also a great place to find other people who know things and know where to find more materials. This place will never become obsolete because it is leading library information systems development, as through the Encyclopedia of Life Project and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. And this is also where the archival materials are housed and where scholars will find those materials and other scholars studying them.
- Marine Biological Laboratory Annual Reports: available in the MBL The Biological Bulletin Vols. 17 and 21–105 at http://www.archive.org/details/biologicalbullet01mari and beginning with 2004 at http://www.mbl.edu/governance/gov_annual_report.html.
In 1888 when students and investigators arrived in Woods Hole for the inaugural session of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), they recognized the need for a library collection of books and journals. The one wooden building on campus, later known as Old Main, housed everything, with researchers upstairs and the student laboratory downstairs. Lectures were held in one corner, and shelves held what books and journals were contributed.Created: 2008-10-25
From 1886 to 1889 Charles Otis Whitman was director of the Allis Lake Laboratory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The lab was established by Edward Phelps Allis, Jr. to provide a place for biological research separate from a university setting and a place where an independent scholar like Allis himself could work. Allis had hired Whitman as an instructor to establish the lab, direct it, and lead a research program there. The lab lasted for eight years, attracted several researchers, and the papers that came out of the lab included a focus on embryology. This raised the question of where to publish the work since there were few life science journals being published in the United States , which led Whitman to propose a new journal.
With Allis’s support, Whitman started the Journal of Morphology in 1897 for long, almost monographic articles complete with elaborate illustrations. In addition, Whitman and his student William Morton Wheeler (who had also worked at the Allis Lake Laboratory) started a second journal for shorter articles and reports that could quickly appear in print. This was seen as a companion for the Journal of Morphology and was intended to embrace the entire field of animal biology. At first they called it the Zöological Bulletin, but after the first two years of publication in 1898 and 1899, the title changed to The Biological Bulletin. This also fit with the fact that the journal started out independently and then in 1890 became affiliated informally with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, of which Whitman served as first director starting in 1888. The MBL also published its series of evening lectures throughout the 1890s, as The Biological Lectures Delivered at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Holl. Whitman encouraged MBL investigators to publish in the first two journals and the lecturers to contribute their lectures to the third. Very quickly, Whitman had helped the United States establish itself as a place where serious scientific research was done in the life sciences.
Most new scientific journals start with an introduction, a statement of mission, or something that tells the reader and potential subscriber or submission author what this publication is about. Not The Biological Bulletin. It began its first issue as The Zöological Bulletin in 1897 (The Biological Bulletin in 1899) with an article by Allis himself. Other investigators from Allis Lake Lab and from the MBL submitted their work, including women scientists who were generally rare among life science researchers.
By 1899 Whitman had moved to Clark University and had realized that the journal needed a broader base. The first issue from the MBL and under the new Biological Bulletin name opened with Maynard M. Metcalf on “Some Relations between Nervous Tissue and Glandular Tissue in the Tunicata.” The issue includes articles by T. H. Morgan, Anne Moore, Garry de N. Hough, and C. W. Hargitt. The front matter says only the title of the journal and that it was edited by the Director and Members of the Staff of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Holl, Massachusetts.
This continued for two years, but in 1900 Whitman and the Ginn Company in Boston that was publishing the journal had disagreements, and finding funding for the journal was a challenge. As a result, the 1900 volume had only three spring issues and 1901 came out only midway through the year. Issues resumed full force in 1902 with the New Era Publishing Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (which later became Lancaster Press). This was the real solid start of the journal, with the excellent administrator and Assistant Director of the Marine Biological Laboratory Frank R. Lillie serving as Managing Editor and an appointed editorial board comprised of Whitman, Edwin Grant Conklin, Jacques Loeb, Thomas Hunt Morgan, William Morton Wheeler, and Edmund Beecher Wilson. Lillie remained as managing editor for nearly a quarter of a century and placed the journal, as he did the MBL itself, on a solid intellectual and economic foundation.
In starting again in a more formal way, the MBL staff recognized the need to explain what The Biological Bulletin was meant to be. It was meant to offer an American version of the German Biologisches Centralblatt or Anatomischer Anzeiger, they said. And it was up to American scientists to join the editors and make the enterprise successful.
The journal has remained strong through many different editors and changes in MBL administration, in large part because of a clear and coherent mission that is broad enough and yet focused enough to have remained compelling for more than a century. It has been a challenge at times, when specialty publications have become the norm, to define a valuable niche for a publication that includes all of biology in its mission. The articles have been largely reports of experimental work, often but not always with marine organisms, often concentrating on the areas in which the MBL itself excels, such as neurobiology, development, cell biology, and physiology.
The journal has helped build the MBL library into one of the world’s best biological research centers, since from the beginning, the editors swapped with many other publications and thereby helped all the collections grow. Today, MBL Corporation members can choose to receive a copy of the journal with their membership, and as of 2008, all past issues are now available through open access online.
- Clapp, Pamela. “The History of The Biological Bulletin.” The Biological Bulletin 174 (1988): 1–3.
- Marine Biological Laboratory Annual Reports: available in the MBL The Biological Bulletin Vols. 17 and 21–105 at http://www.archive.org/details/biologicalbullet01mari and beginning with 2004 at http://www.mbl.edu/governance/gov_annual_report.html.
From 1886 to 1889 Charles Otis Whitman was director of the Allis Lake Laboratory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The lab was established by Edward Phelps Allis, Jr. to provide a place for biological research separate from a university setting and a place where an independent scholar like Allis himself could work. Allis had hired Whitman as an instructor to establish the lab, direct it, and lead a research program there. The lab lasted for eight years, attracted several researchers, and the papers that came out of the lab included a focus on embryology.Created: 2008-10-24
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) was founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Woods Hole was already the site for the government’s US Fish Commission Laboratory directed by Spencer Fullerton Baird, and it seemed like the obvious place to add an independent research laboratory that would draw individual scientific investigators along with students and instructors for courses. From the beginning, the lab had the dual mission of teaching and research, and from the beginning leading biologists have found their way to this small village on the “heel” tip of Cape Cod.
Supported by trustees who were largely in the Boston area, the lab opened its doors that first year with one small wooden building and great enthusiasm. Advertising was largely word of mouth since the building was still being constructed and the supplies had not yet arrived up to the last minute. Nonetheless, eight students and seven investigators made up the pioneer group in a six week session with a budget of just over $10,000 to build and equip the new laboratory building. With a focus on marine life, Balfour H. Van Vleck served as first instructor for a general zoology course.
The second year brought considerable expansion to six instructors and the addition of botany. After that, the lab was on its way to becoming an international presence in marine biology and eventually in certain defined areas of biology generally. From the beginning, embryology was one of the primary focus areas of the lab, and it has remained so throughout the MBL’s 120-plus years. The leadership of the laboratory had a strong embryological interest from the beginning, as did the individual investigators and trustees. Especially when the work was experimental, the emphasis was sometimes labeled “physiology” instead of “experimental embryology” to get at fundamental processes of development.
Charles Otis Whitman served as first director of the lab. He had directed the small private Allis Lake Laboratory near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then directed the biology program at Clark University, and then the biology program at the University of Chicago. Whitman was an able administrator who inspired people intellectually, and he somehow managed to make things work even when money was short. This is probably due in large part to the talents of Frank Rattray Lillie, who followed Whitman at Chicago and at the MBL where he became Assistant Director and then second Director. Where Whitman left financial matters to hope, saying things like “well, what is money for?,” Lillie was an astute manager with support from his wealthy brother-in-law Charles Crane and other individuals and foundations. Whitman and Lillie made a fine team, and they attracted a board of trustees that included top research biologists and also loyal donors. This has remained true, as the MBL has developed a Corporation of research scientists who pay a membership to be part of the group, plus installed a governing Board of Trustees to oversee operations. Despite some challenging times and some tempting take-over offers, the lab has always remained independent; research and instruction both have increasingly come to rely on federal grants and private foundations but the lab has resisted various attempts to make it an arm of a university, the government, or other organizations.
In 1890 the lab started a series of evening lectures that became known as the Friday Evening Lectures. The goals of offering these lectures and advertising them widely to the public were twofold: first to take science to the larger public and increase interest in science, and second to bring specialists together to learn from each other. Lecturers were instructed to make their talks accessible to beginners as well as of value to senior researchers. These were not intended to be courses, but rather to supplement the systematic organized instruction of the courses. For the years 1890–1899, the lectures were published as the Biological Lectures Delivered at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Holl.
Courses included zoology, of course, and botany starting in the second year. In addition, Jacques Loeb added physiology as a focus. By 1893 the lab announced instruction in zoology, botany, embryology, physiology, and microscopical technique. In particular, Whitman was directing a course of lectures in embryology, working with Lillie. The Embryology Course has remained a core part of the MBL instructional offerings since 1893, with additional specialized training programs at different times with different emphases.
From the beginning, individuals or institutions could rent lab space and carry out investigations. Since embryological research drew heavily on comparative studies of marine development, it made sense for universities to send their embryologists to the seashore to do work. As Philip Pauly noted, the combination of doing one’s research while summering at the seashore was a tremendously attractive option. The MBL has always been a place for the world’s top embryologists to gather in the labs, in lectures, on sailing picnics, and with their families at the beaches. Annual Reports show the range of work done at the MBL, and since 1897 the publication of the Biological Bulletin has added an outlet for research carried out by MBL researchers and others.
For the early decades of the lab, embryological work centered on descriptive and comparative studies, especially cell lineage work that reported the details of each cell division for as long as it could be followed in each organism. Different researchers took up different organisms and compared their results, developing concepts of determinative and regulatory development depending on how much the cell divisions could respond to changing environmental conditions. Edmund Beecher Wilson placed cells at the center of developmental research, with his masterful The Cell in Development and Inheritance (1896; second edition 1900; much revised third edition 1925). Then the early twentieth-century brought experimental embryology, and by the 1950s and 1960s embryology embraced genetics and became known as developmental biology. Leaders such as James Ebert and Eric Davidson led the lab and also the Embryology Course in the direction of studying differentiation through processes like organogenesis or genetic regulation of development, for example.
While other places often gave up the embryos, the MBL has retained an interest not just in the cells and molecules but also in the developing organisms, which exist in specific environments and depend on complex systems of interacting cell signals and environmental cues. The Embryology Course and the investigation carried out in labs has changed over the 120-plus years at the MBL, but the MBL has played an important role in securing the central place of embryos and the value of comparative study of developmental processes. Perhaps being near the organisms and being able to have them delivered directly from the collectors in the Supply Department makes them more real and the interactions of the parts more salient.
Complex systems, modeling, molecules, and physiological systems all join together in the study of marine and related material at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Researchers have gone out to collect their specimens and have kept them alive in the on-demand seawater running through designated pipes. They have studied normal development, pathologies, and experimental conditions. Generation, regeneration, and new generation are on the research agenda. As the Annual Reports show starting with the very first years, the MBL has been a place for leading investigation and instruction in several areas including embryology, neurobiology, and physiology. Over the years, this has placed the MBL in a solid position to develop such diverse promising areas of research as molecular genetics, neuroembryology, and regenerative medicine.
View a timeline of the MBL here.
- Lillie, Frank R. The Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1944. Reprinted as a Supplement to The Biological Bulletin Vol. 174 (1988) available at http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/17426.
- Maienschein, Jane. 100 Years Exploring Life, 1888–1988. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1989.
- Marine Biological Laboratory Annual Reports: available in the MBL Biological Bulletin Vols. 17 and 21–105 at ,http://www.archive.org/details/biologicalbullet01mari and beginning with 2004 at http://www.mbl.edu/governance/gov_annual_report.html.
- Marine Biological Laboratory. Symposium Supplement to The Biological Bulletin Vol. 168 (1985): 1–204.
- Pauly, Philip. “Summer Resort and Scientific Discipline: Woods Hole and the Structure of American Biology, 1882–1925.” In The American Development of Biology, eds. Ronald Rainger, Keith R. Benson, and Jane Maienschein, 121–150., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) was founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Woods Hole was already the site for the government 's US Fish Commission Laboratory directed by Spencer Fullerton Baird, and it seemed like the obvious place to add an independent research laboratory that would draw individual scientific investigators along with students and instructors for courses.Created: 2008-10-24
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, began in 1888 to offer opportunities for instruction and research in biological topics. For the first few years, this meant that individual investigators had a small lab space upstairs in the one wooden building on campus where students heard their lectures and did their research in a common area downstairs. The lectures for those first years offered an overview of general biology with a focus on zoology, and they were intended for teachers and graduate students interested in acquiring the background for teaching about and/or actually doing laboratory work. As the lab quickly grew, it added sets of lectures that made up courses in zoology, then botany, then physiology, and in 1893 what became the first Embryology Course.
The 1890s were a lively time in embryology, with new techniques and discoveries related to the roles of cells in development, and a growing excitement about the way that experimental embryological manipulations could reveal processes that otherwise remain inside the usually opaque embryo. The MBL recognized the importance of this work and began their course in embryology, which was offered as an elementary course in vertebrate embryology. This was designed for those who had already had the general course, and it had the appeal of offering something more advanced that would bring students back for an additional year. The goal that first year was to allow students to discover the details of development, and to learn the methods for doing the work. The six-week course was directed by Charles Otis Whitman, who was the MBL director, and his student and protégé Frank Rattray Lillie, who became Whitman’s Assistant Director and then his successor as Director both at the MBL and also at the Biology Department at the University of Chicago.
Students were expected to bring their own equipment, including a compound microscope, a dissecting microscope (and it was specified that the Paul Meyer pattern made by Zeiss was the best of the kind), a camera lucida , microtome, and other standard embryological equipment to make up a “complete outfit.” Each student was given a supply of fish eggs and expected to follow the stages of development starting with fertilization. The camera lucida was to facilitate drawing, which was an important part of embryological work until relatively recently. The students all learned the most up-to-date techniques for observing, preserving, embedding, fixing, staining, and then drawing, reconstructing, and modeling embryological processes. The course cost fifty dollars for a number of years and was limited to a dozen students.
For the second year, students were required to have not just a general biology course but also an anatomy course as a pre-requisite. The course continued until 1901, when the lab had grown enough that the course expanded its staff and added zoology as a pre-requisite. The goal of the course was not just to teach the basics of embryology but also to prepare students to take up independent investigations of their own. In addition, the course announcements emphasized the value of studying such a subject at the MBL. Here it was not necessary to rely on preserved developmental stages fixed to slides, but it was possible also to study the living material available during a summer at the seashore. The course continued, with new directors and instructors and with students going on to their own research and sometimes returning as instructors themselves.
Only in 1921 did the course begin to cost seventy-five dollars. Hubert Goodrich became director in 1922 and remained so until 1942. This was an important time for embryology, and the course clearly offered the basics in experimental techniques and introduction to modern theory. It probably served as a very valuable introduction for many young scientists, who encountered living material, interacted with established researchers, and learned how to use equipment and techniques not just to see what others had reported before but also how to ask new questions and prod the embryos to yield answers.
1942 brought a continuation of the basic approach but also a new director. Viktor Hamburger had served as an instructor (view PDF [10.1 MB] of original Hamburger lecture notes) since 1937, shortly after he had taken his experience in Hans Spemann’s lab in Germany to the University of Chicago. There, Lillie undoubtedly lured him to the MBL for the summer and put him to work. Hamburger directed the Embryology Course from 1942 through 1945, when long-time instructor, Donald Costello from the University of North Carolina, took over through 1950. Where Hamburger looked at neuroembryology in his own work and emphasized patterns of development and causes of differentiation, Costello was especially interested in comparative invertebrate embryology. No doubt their approaches worked together well, and the course retained its flavor of lab research drawing on the natural history of the marine offerings.
In the 1950s S. Meryl Rose from the University of Illinois and then Mac V. Edds from Brown University directed the course. This is a period when such notables as John Tyler Bonner of Princeton University, with his enthusiasm for slime molds and problems of morphogenesis, John P. Trinkaus (known as Trink), Clifford Grobstein from the National Cancer Center, Philip Grant from Johns Hopkins University, John W. Saunders from Marquette University, and others brought new perspectives to the traditional course. Throughout this period and dating back to the 1940s, they listed a set of books that students should have, and the list remained surprisingly constant in ways that would be unlikely in this rapidly changing field today.
In 1962 James Ebert at the Carnegie Institution of Washington became director and things changed. The course description shifted for the next year, and the course fee rose to $300—$150 for the series of lectures plus $150 for those who wished to stay for an additional period of individual investigation. The course was becoming less introductory and more designed for would-be researchers such as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who wanted to learn advanced techniques and to hear about theories and problems in development. The content remained, with additions of Ebert’s specialty work in organogenesis, but Ebert’s five year run as course director made the course at least look more professional in its focus on modern technical topics. This move to professionalism was reinforced by NIH training grants that supported the Embryology and sometimes other courses in the late 1960s and beyond.
In 1971 the course fees rose to $400 + $400, and the announcement made clear that the course was targeted to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and to advanced undergraduates seriously interested in pursuing research in this field. Also in 1971, Eric Davidson from Cal Tech served as an instructor. In 1972 he became course director and served in that role through 1974, then again from 1988 through 1996, making him the longest-running course director and giving him the opportunity for the greatest impact on the history of the course. He took great advantage of the opportunity to revise and update the course. In fact, Davidson brought the first major changes in the course which was now “centered around one particular conceptual area of developmental biology.” And the emphasis clearly shifted from instruction and introduction to research to a higher level of expected training and investment in research on the part of the participants.
The focus for 1972 was cytoplasmic localization phenomena, for 1973 the synthesis, storage, and utilization of developmental genetic information during oogenesis in vertebrates and invertebrates, and in 1974 “Sequence Organization in the animal genome and transcription-level gene regulation.” This was a significant shift, and arguably Ebert and Davidson in their different ways had done the most to move the traditional popular course into the professional and molecular era of the late twentieth century.
David Epel from the University of California at San Diego brought an emphasis on cells and cell-cell communication with “Cell Interactions, Cell Membranes, and Cell Surfaces in Development” (1975). Then Tom Humphreys from the University of Hawaii joined Epel in offering “Developmental Regulation of Gene Expression” (1976), “Extracellular Signals in Cell Growth and Differentiation” (1977), and “Localization, Pattern Formation, and Morphogenesis” (1978 and 1979). Rudolf Raff from Indiana University directed “The Control of Events in Early Embryology Development” (1980), “Gene Control and the Events of Early Embryonic Development” (1981), and “Cytoplasmic Localization, Determination, and Gene Control in Development” (1982). These years brought a much expanded list of instructors and lecturers, as the field became more complex and it was important to bring together speakers across the wide range of new ideas and techniques.
Then in 1984, under the direction of William Jeffery from the University of Texas at Austin and Bruce Brandhorst from McGill University, the course reverted to the simpler title of “Embryology: A Modern Course in Developmental Biology.” From 1989 through 1996 the title was “Embryology: Cell Differentiation and Gene Expression in Early Development” and from 1997 to present, it has been “Embryology: Concepts and Techniques in Modern Developmental Biology.”
Discussions by the Education Committee and course directors at various points show that the MBL considered whether to change the name to reflect more current thinking, namely with an emphasis on developmental biology and an emphasis on molecular genetics rather than the traditional embryology. They decided to stick with the traditional course that is now more than one hundred and fifteen years old and instead added other January short courses focused on developmental and molecular techniques. Of course the Embryology course, taught in traditional labs, includes a considerable dose of modern molecular work. And students in recent years admit that they no longer go out to muck about and collect specimens themselves, nor do they have any idea where to look in most cases. Yet there is a tie to tradition, to the observations and collections of the past century, and course instructors will send their students to the MBL Rare Books Room to discover something of the history and context of the work that is now so different from and yet so grounded in the traditions of its predecessors.
View a timeline of the directors and instructors here.
- Marine Biological Laboratory Annual Announcements: MBL-WHOI Library Special Collections.
- Marine Biological Laboratory Annual Reports: available in the MBL The Biological Bulletin Vols. 17 and 21–105 at http://www.archive.org/details/biologicalbullet01mari and beginning with 2004 at http://www.mbl.edu/governance/gov_annual_report.html.
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, began in 1888 to offer opportunities for instruction and research in biological topics. For the first few years, this meant that individual investigators had a small lab space upstairs in the one wooden building on campus where students heard their lectures and did their research in a common area downstairs.Created: 2007-10-24
Ernest Everett Just was an early twentieth century American experimental embryologist involved in research at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and the Stazione Zoologica in Naples, Italy. Just was known for simple but elegant experiments that supported the “fertilizing” theory of Frank R. Lillie and served as an antagonist to Jacques Loeb’s work with artificial parthenogenesis. Just’s many experiments with marine invertebrates showed that the egg surface, or ectoplasm, plays an important role in the fertilization and development of eggs.
Just was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 14 August 1883 to Charles Frazier Just Jr. and Mary Matthew Just. His father died in 1887 and soon after the Just family moved to James Island, off the coast of South Carolina. His early education consisted of attending the small school that his mother founded and directed. Just left James Island at the age of twelve to attend the Colored Normal Industrial Agricultural and Mechanics College at Orangeburg (now South Carolina State College). In 1899 Just graduated with a Licentiate of Instruction, meaning that he was certified to teach in any black school in South Carolina. He was only fifteen years old.
Teaching did not appeal to the teenager so he traveled north, picking up odd jobs along the way until he reached Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. Just finished a classical course of study in three years, during which time his mother died. The young college graduate was advised by friends and teachers to attend Dartmouth College which he decided to do. At Dartmouth, Just studied biology, history, literature, and the classics. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1907, the only “magna cum laude” in his class, with an AB degree and joined the English faculty at Howard University, Washington, DC in the fall of that same year. He was asked to take over the biology department and teach physiology in 1910, in addition to his English teaching duties. Soon after, Just became the first head of the new Department of Zoology and gave up teaching English courses.
Through a Dartmouth contact, Just communicated with Lillie at the University of Chicago about a post-graduate degree in biology. Lillie directed Just to begin research in 1909 at Woods Hole and to take courses at the University of Chicago. Work at the marine station quickly turned into a research assistantship, working side-by-side with Lillie. All of this was done in addition to maintaining a full-time teaching position at Howard. After obtaining his PhD, Just returned annually to Woods Hole as an independent researcher.
Just focused his interests on marine invertebrate eggs, both in the laboratory and in their natural setting. Because of his tacit knowledge of how marine invertebrates reproduced in oceans and estuaries, Just was able to closely match his laboratory environment to that of the organism’s natural environment. In 1912, Just’s first paper, “The Relation of the First Cleavage Plane to the Entrance Point of the Sperm.” was published in the Biological Bulletin. Just showed that eggs of the marine worm (Nereis) cleave in different planes depending on the sperm’s point of entry. To Just, the egg’s surface was an important and robust factor in the fertilization process. By showing that sperm had an equal probability of entering the egg at any point on the egg’s surface, and that the direction of cleavage depended on the arbitrary point of entry of sperm, and not some predetermined cleavage plane, Just made a dent in preformationist theory. It was also during this time that he married Ethel Highwarden in 1912 and met Jacques Loeb while Loeb was at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Similar research interests and Loeb’s stand on social equality made the two embryologists fast, but not longstanding friends. In 1915 Just was the first to receive the Spingarn Medal, presented annually to the African-American who performs the greatest service to his or her race. This was followed by the University of Chicago awarding Just his PhD degree in experimental embryology in 1916.
During 1919 and 1920, Just published four papers in the Biological Bulletin, all focusing on his work with the sand dollar Echinarachnius parma. In one set of experiments Just measured the elevation of the egg membrane at sperm contact and the time that it took for the membrane to be penetrated by a sperm. He observed that the sperm was pulled into the egg rather than the commonly held view that it actively bored its way into the egg. Just also documented a “wave of instability” that moved from the sperm’s entry point to the opposite side of the egg. Since then, embryologists have proven that such an instability wave is a wave of cortical granule exocytosis that forms the fertilization envelope. Just also saw that the wave was associated with an immediate blocking of any further sperm penetrability of the egg.
In 1920, while continuing to teach at Howard, Just obtained a ten-year research fellowship from Julius Rosenwald through the National Research Council. He wasted no time in returning to his work at Woods Hole where he continued to study the process of fertilization with results that strengthened Lillie’s work and questioned Loeb’s idea of “superficial cytolysis.” According to Loeb’s studies, egg development could be initiated by exposing eggs to butyric acid. Development was then immediately followed by the release of lysine, Loeb’s cytolytic agent, to break down the egg cortex. Just showed that putting eggs in butyric acid for a short period of time actually slowed cytolysis rather than sped it up. Just was able to prove that the cytolytic effect of the butyric acid was due to overexposure of the eggs to the acid and nothing more. He went even further in dismissing Loeb’s experimental findings on artificial parthenogenesis, attacking Loeb’s method of record-keeping and his apparent failure to maintain experimental conditions to mimic his experimental organisms’ natural environments.
The friendship that Just and Loeb had forged together at Woods Hole quickly vanished. Their disagreements played out for many years, with Loeb providing negative evaluations of Just to the Rockefeller Institute and the Carnegie Foundation. Every time Just tried to obtain grant money, Loeb’s evaluations seemed to rise up and quell any grant award.
In 1929 Just made his first trip to Europe and worked at Anton Dohrn’s Stazione Zoologica in Naples. For six months he experimented with sea urchins (Paracentrotus lividus and Echinus microtuberculatus) to see how these organisms develop and to continue testing Lillie’s “fertilizin” theory of fertilization. Around 1906 Lillie had hypothesized that eggs release a substance that he coined fertilizin. Upon contact with spermatozoa, said Lillie, fertilizin causes sperm to attach to it. Lillie believed that fertilizin molecules served as receptors on the egg’s surface. With receptors for egg and sperm surfaces, the molecule helped to “agglutinate” egg and sperm together.
In 1930 Just was invited to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin where he continued his studies of the ectoplasm with other species, including Amoeba. Just strove to show the importance of ectoplasm in initiation of development. While in Europe he published three articles on the role of ectoplasm: “ Die Rolle des kortikalen Cytoplasmas bei vitalen Erscheinungen” (“The Role of Cortical Cytoplasmin Vital Phenomena”) in Naturwissenschaften (1931) and “On Origin of Mutations” (1932) and “Cortical Cytoplasm and Evolution” (1933), both published in the American Naturalist. All three articles pointed to Just’s view that ectoplasm is necessary for fertilization to occur.
With little hope of ever being able to teach anywhere but a black college, and his continued failure to secure research funds, Just went to Europe in 1938 with the intent of leaving Howard and finishing out his research career on a new continent. In 1939 he published two books: Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals and The Biology of the Cell Surface. Both books reflected Just’s holistic view of eggs and embryos: that is, eggs are to be taken seriously in their own right rather than seen simply as tools to manipulate in order to prove a theory. While Just’s experiments may have been simple, he was an intense perfectionist when it came to laboratory procedure. His ability to keep laboratory environments similar to actual marine environments aided in the integrity of his research. It also led to his life-long criticism of experimental embryologists who failed to appreciate his tacit knowledge about inducing marine invertebrate reproduction. To Just, too many embryologists were busy taking eggs out of natural environments and subjecting them to unnatural manipulations while ignoring the importance of the eggs’ environment as an important factor in development. In The Biology of the Cell Surface, Just also continued his attack on the role of genes in development. He remained adamant that cytoplasm was the key to development and not the nucleus. This countered the growing enthusiasm by geneticists who held the idea that the nucleus controlled fertilization and development.
The Nazi invasion of France in 1940 forced Just to return to the US and Howard University, one of the few institutions at the time that would hire a black scientist. His attempt to recareer again in the United States was short-lived however. Just died of pancreatic cancer on 27 October 1941.
- Byrnes, Malcolm W. “Ernest Everett Just.” New Dictionary of Scientific Biography 4: 66– 70.
- Byrnes, Malcolm W., and William R. Eckberg. “Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941): An Early Ecological Developmental Biologist,” Developmental Biology 296 (2006): 1– 11.
- Gilbert, Scott F. “Cellular Politics: Ernest Everett Just, Richard B. Goldschmidt, and the Attempt to Reconcile Embryology and Genetics.” In The American Development of Biology, eds. Ronald Rainger, Keith R. Benson, and Jane Maienschein, 311–42. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.
- Gould, Stephen Jay. “Just in the Middle: A Solution to the Mechanist-Vitalist Controversy.” In The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections in Natural History, 337-391. New York: W. W. Norton, 1985.
- Just, Ernest E., “The Relation of the First Cleavage Plane at the Entrance Point of the Sperm,” Biological Bulletin 22 (1912): 239–52.
- Lillie, Frank R. “Obituary of Ernest Everett,” Science 95 (1942): 10–11.
- Manning, Kenneth J. Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
- Pauly, Philip J. Controlling Life: Jacques Loeb and the Engineering Ideal in Biology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Ernest Everett Just was an early twentieth century American experimental embryologist involved in research at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and the Stazione Zoologica in Naples, Italy. Just was known for simple but elegant experiments that supported the "fertilizing" theory of Frank R. Lillie and served as an antagonist to Jacques Loeb's work with artificial parthenogenesis.Created: 2010-06-16
James David Ebert studied the developmental processes of chicks and of viruses in the US during the twentieth century. He also helped build and grow many research institutions, such as the Department of Embryology in the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. When few biologists studied the biochemistry of embryos, Ebert built programs and courses around the foci of biochemistry and genetics, especially with regards to embryology. He eventually directed the MBL's Embryology Course, and later, the MBL itself.
Ebert was born on 11 December 1921 in the town of Bentleyville, Pennsylvania. He attended public schools while growing up and then graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1942. Not long after graduation he joined the United States Navy and eventually became a lieutenant. Ebert was stationed on a destroyer in the Pacific Ocean that was attacked by a kamikaze pilot. The destroyer sank and Ebert spent twenty-four hours in the ocean until being rescued. Afterwards, as a biologist, Ebert befriended and trained several Japanese developmental biologists.
In 1946 Ebert began working towards his PhD in developmental biology under the instruction of Benjamin Willier at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In the same year he married Alma Goodwin, who was a Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency during the war. Ebert received his PhD in 1950 and immediately became a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After one year at MIT, Ebert moved to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Ebert became an associate professor of zoology by 1955, and he had started a program of experimental embryology. He studied chick embryos and the processes by which the protein make-up of the embryos changed throughout development.
Six years after receiving his PhD, Ebert became the director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Embryology, in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to Ebert's term as director, the department had had three other directors. The Institution's president, Caryl Haskins, had contemplated closing the department and starting something new. However, with some persuasion from Willier, Haskins spoke with Ebert and decided to give him the opportunity to run the department. Ebert and Haskins agreed that the department needed to focus on the study of genes and their regulation as well as the ways cells influence one another. Haskins said that Ebert's youth and enthusiastic personality made Haskins believe that Ebert would provide a fresh perspective to the department.
Ebert argued that it was his job to recognize and to recruit new talent and then support them in their work. He stressed the use of biochemistry and genetics, which in the 1960s blended together to form molecular biology. During this time, Ebert started to study the relationship between muscle cell differentiation and the propensity to infection in the Rous sarcoma virus.
While still director of the Carnegie embryology department, in 1970 Ebert also became the president and nonresident director of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole. At the MBL he researched, with Keiko Ozato, the response of murine lymphocytes to mitogens.
In 1977 Ebert ended his term at the Carnegie Department of Embryology, but he remained the director of the MBL. From 1978 until 1987, Ebert lived in Washington, D.C., and he was the president of the whole Carnegie Institution of Washington. As the institution's president, he made the decision to help build a large optical telescope in Chile at Las Campanas Observatory, and he worked towards the creation of a common campus for both Carnegie departments in Washington.
Ebert remained involved with scientific institutions for the rest of his life. When leaving one institution, he found another one to join. He retired from the Carnegie Institution in 1987 and became the president of the Chesapeake Bay Institute at the Johns Hopkins University, where he was a professor of biology for six years. Ebert was elected to many societies including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine. He was the vice president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1981 through 1993 and he also chaired its Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable from 1987 through 1993. His colleagues elected him as president of the Society for the Study of Development and Growth, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the American Society of Zoologists.
In retirement, Ebert and his wife Alma spent half of each year in Woods Hole and at the MBL. Ebert and Alma died on 22 May 2001 in an automobile accident while en route to Woods Hole.
- DeHaan, Robert L., and James D. Ebert. "Morphogenesis." Annual Review of Physiology 26 (1964): 15–46.
- Ebert, James D. "An analysis of the effects of anti-organ sera on the development, in vitro, of the early chick blastoderm." Journal of Experimental Zoology 115 (1950): 351–77.
- Ebert, James D. "An analysis of the synthesis and distribution of the contractile protein, myosin, in the development of the heart." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 39 (1953): 333–44.
- Ebert, James D. "The effects of chorioallantoic transplants of adult chicken tissues on homologous tissues of the host chick embryo." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 40 (1954): 337–47.
- Ebert, James D. "The formation of muscle and muscle-like elements in the chorioallantoic membrane following inoculation of a mixture of cardiac microsomes and Rous sarcoma virus." Journal of Experimental Zoology 142 (1959): 587–621.
- Ebert, James D., and Ian M. Sussex. Interacting Systems in Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.
- Ebert, James D., and Fred H. Wilt. "Animal Viruses and Embryos." The Quarterly Review of Biology 35 (1960): 261–312.
- Obituaries. "Jim and Alma Ebert." Marine Biological Laboratory. http://www.mbl.edu/news/obit/obit_ebert.html (Accessed December 8, 2007).
- Ozato, Keiko, William H. Adler, and James D. Ebert. "Synergism of bacterial lipopolysaccharides and concanavalin A in the activation of thymic lymphocytes." Cellular Immunology 17 (1975): 532–41.
- Singer, Maxine. "James David Ebert." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 148 (2004): 124–27.
James David Ebert studied the developmental processes of chicks and of viruses in the US during the twentieth century. He also helped build and grow many research institutions, such as the Department of Embryology in the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. When few biologists studied the biochemistry of embryos, Ebert built programs and courses around the foci of biochemistry and genetics, especially with regards to embryology.Created: 2008-09-12