Anton Dohrn
Felix Anton Dohrn was a prominent German Darwinist
Darwinism is a set of movements and concepts related to ideas of transmutation of species or of evolution, including some ideas with no connection to the work of Charles Darwin....

 and the founder and first director of the Stazione Zoologica
Stazione Zoologica
The Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn is a research institute in Naples, Italy, devoted to basic research in biology. Research is largely interdisciplinary involving the fields of evolution, biochemistry, molecular biology, neurobiology, cell biology, biological oceanography, marine botany, molecular...

, Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

, Italy.

Family history

Dohrn was born in Stettin (Szczecin)
Szczecin , is the capital city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland. It is the country's seventh-largest city and the largest seaport in Poland on the Baltic Sea. As of June 2009 the population was 406,427....

, Pomerania, into a wealthy middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

 family. His grandfather, Heinrich Dohrn, had been a wine
Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made of fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, or other nutrients. Grape wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. Yeast...

 and spice
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. It may be used to flavour a dish or to hide other flavours...

A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

, and had made the family fortune by trading in sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

. This wealth allowed Anton's father, Carl August
Carl August Dohrn
Carl August Dohrn was a German entomologist.-Biography:Born at Stettin Carl August was the son of Heinrich Dohrn, who was a wine and spice merchant, and had made the family fortune by trading in sugar...

, to devote himself to his various hobbies; travelling, folk music and insects. Anton, the youngest son, read zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

 and medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

 at various German universities (Königsberg
University of Königsberg
The University of Königsberg was the university of Königsberg in East Prussia. It was founded in 1544 as second Protestant academy by Duke Albert of Prussia, and was commonly known as the Albertina....

, Bonn
University of Bonn
The University of Bonn is a public research university located in Bonn, Germany. Founded in its present form in 1818, as the linear successor of earlier academic institutions, the University of Bonn is today one of the leading universities in Germany. The University of Bonn offers a large number...

, Jena and Berlin), with little application or enthusiasm for his studies.

Introduction to Darwinism

His ideas changed in summer 1862 when he returned to study at Jena
Jena is a university city in central Germany on the river Saale. It has a population of approx. 103,000 and is the second largest city in the federal state of Thuringia, after Erfurt.-History:Jena was first mentioned in an 1182 document...

, where Ernst Haeckel
Ernst Haeckel
The "European War" became known as "The Great War", and it was not until 1920, in the book "The First World War 1914-1918" by Charles à Court Repington, that the term "First World War" was used as the official name for the conflict.-Research:...

 introduced him to Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

's work and theories. Dohrn became a fervent defender of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

At that time comparative embryology
Embryology is a science which is about the development of an embryo from the fertilization of the ovum to the fetus stage...

 was the keystone of morphological evolutionary studies, based on Haeckel's recapitulation theory
Recapitulation theory
The theory of recapitulation, also called the biogenetic law or embryological parallelism—and often expressed as "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"—is a disproven hypothesis that in developing from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages...

, the idea that an organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

 during its embryo
An embryo is a multicellular diploid eukaryote in its earliest stage of development, from the time of first cell division until birth, hatching, or germination...

nic development passes through the major stages of the evolutionary past of its species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

. Morphology became one of the major ways in which zoologists sought to expand and develop Darwinian theory in the latter years of the 19th century. Dohrn chose to become a "Darwinian morphologist".

Dohrn received his doctorate
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 in 1865 at Breslau, and his Habilitation
Habilitation is the highest academic qualification a scholar can achieve by his or her own pursuit in several European and Asian countries. Earned after obtaining a research doctorate, such as a PhD, habilitation requires the candidate to write a professorial thesis based on independent...

 in 1868 at Jena. During these times, he worked several times at facilities located on by the sea: Helgoland alongside Haeckel in 1865, Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 in 1866, Millport
Millport, Isle of Cumbrae
Millport is the only town on the island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde off the coast of North Ayrshire, Scotland. The town is four miles south from the Largs-based Caledonian MacBrayne ferry slipway....

, Scotland with David Robertson
David Robertson (naturalist)
Dr David Robertson FLS, FGS was a Scottish naturalist who founded the University Marine Biological Station, Millport.Robertson was born in Glasgow. From age 8 he worked as a herd boy in Ayrshire, Scotland but eventually went on to gain a medical degree. His interests turned to the study of Natural...

 in 1867 and 1868 and moved to Messina, Italy, during the winter of 1868 together with his Russian
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 friend and colleague Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai
Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai
Nicholay Miklouho-Maclay was a Russian ethnologist, anthropologist and biologist of Ukrainian, German and Polish descent.- Ancestry and early years :...


Development of "marine stations"

In Messina, Dohrn and Micloukho-Maklai conceived a plan to cover the globe with a network of zoological research stations, analogous to railway stations, where scientists could stop, collect material, make observations and conduct experiments, before moving on to the next station.
Dohrn realised how useful it would be for scientists to arrive at a location and find a ready to use laboratory. Dohrn rented two rooms for the "Stazione Zoologica di Messina", but quickly realized the technical difficulties of studying marine life without a permanent structure and support facilities, such as trained personnel and a library.

Foundation of the Stazione Zoologica

In 1870 Dohrn decided that Naples would be a better place for his Station. This choice was due to the greater biological richness
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions...

 of the Gulf of Naples
Gulf of Naples
The Gulf of Naples is a c. 15 km wide gulf located in the south western coast of Italy, . It opens to the west into the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered on the north by the cities of Naples and Pozzuoli, on the east by Mount Vesuvius, and on the south by the Sorrentine Peninsula and the main...

 and also to the possibility of starting a research institute of international importance in a large university town that itself had a strong international element.

After a visiting a newly opened aquarium in Berlin he decided the charging the general public to visit an aquarium might earn the laboratory enough money to pay a salary to a permanent assistant. Naples, with a population of 500,000 inhabitants, was one of the largest and most attractive cities of Europe and also had a considerable flow of tourists (30,000 a year) that would be potential visitors to the aquarium.

Dohrn overcame the doubts of the city authorities and persuaded them to give him, free-of-charge, a plot of land at the sea edge, in the beautiful Villa Comunale
Villa Comunale
The Villa Comunale is the most prominent and visible park in Naples, southern Italy. It was built in the 1780s by King Ferdinand IV on land reclaimed along the coast between the main body of the city and the small port of Mergellina...

 on the condition that he promised to build the Stazione Zoologica at his own expense.

Dohrn opened the station to visiting scientists in September 1873, and to the general public in January 1874.

In 1875 he published Der Ursprung der Wirbelthiere und das Princip des Functionswechsels: Genealogische Skizzen which proposed the "turn over" theory of the origin of vertebrates.

The "Bench" system

In order to promote the international status of the Stazione and to guarantee its economic and hence political independence and freedom of research
Freedom (political)
Political freedom is a central philosophy in Western history and political thought, and one of the most important features of democratic societies...

, Dohrn introduced a series of innovative measures to finance his project. Firstly, the rental of work and research space (the "Bench system"), for an annual fee universities, governments, scientific institutions, private foundations or individuals could send one scientist to the Stazione for one year where he or she would find available all that was required to conduct research (laboratory space, animal supply, chemicals, an exceptional library and expert staff). These facilities were supplied with no strings attached, in the sense that investigators were completely free to pursue their own projects and ideas.

This system worked extremely well, and when Anton Dohrn died in 1909 more than 2,200 scientists from Europe and the United States had worked at Naples and more than 50 tables-per-year had been rented out. It was in fact at Naples that international scientific collaboration in the modern sense was invented, based on quick and free communication of ideas, methods and results.


The success of the Stazione Zoologica, and the new way of thinking and funding research are the main legacies of Dohrn. The model was copied a number of times throughout the world. In 1878 Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 founded the Chesapeake Zoological Laboratory, under the direction of W.K. Brooks. Then, in 1888, the Marine Biological Laboratory
Marine Biological Laboratory
The Marine Biological Laboratory is an international center for research and education in biology, biomedicine and ecology. Founded in 1888, the MBL is the oldest independent marine laboratory in the Americas, taking advantage of a coastal setting in the Cape Cod village of Woods Hole, Massachusetts...

 was founded at Woods Hole and in 1892 the first laboratory on the west coast, the Hopkins Marine Station
Hopkins Marine Station
Hopkins Marine Station is the marine laboratory of Stanford University. It is located ninety miles south of the university's main campus, in Pacific Grove, California on the Monterey Peninsula, adjacent to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is home to nine research laboratories and a fluctuating...

, opened in California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. In Britain, current marine laboratories that originate from this time include the Dunstaffnage Marine Station (today SAMS, 1884), the Gatty Marine Laboratory (University of St Andrews
University of St Andrews
The University of St Andrews, informally referred to as "St Andrews", is the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world after Oxford and Cambridge. The university is situated in the town of St Andrews, Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. It was founded between...

, 1884), the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

, 1888), the Dove Marine Laboratory (Newcastle University, 1897), the Fisheries Research Laboratory (Aberdeen
Aberdeen is Scotland's third most populous city, one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas and the United Kingdom's 25th most populous city, with an official population estimate of ....

, 1899), and the Bangor Marine Station (Queen's University of Belfast
Queen's University of Belfast
Queen's University Belfast is a public research university in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The university's official title, per its charter, is the Queen's University of Belfast. It is often referred to simply as Queen's, or by the abbreviation QUB...

, 1903).

Dohrn's name has been immortalised in an undersea feature, the Anton Dohrn Seamount
Anton Dohrn Seamount
The Anton Dohrn Seamount is a guyot in the Rockall Trough in the northeast Atlantic. It was named after the ship which discovered it which, in turn, had been named after the 19-century biologist Anton Dohrn....

, a seamount
A seamount is a mountain rising from the ocean seafloor that does not reach to the water's surface , and thus is not an island. These are typically formed from extinct volcanoes, that rise abruptly and are usually found rising from a seafloor of depth. They are defined by oceanographers as...

 in the Rockall Trough, to the north-west of the British Isles, which has become known for the great biodiversity which lives on the cold-water coral, Lophelia pertusa
Lophelia pertusa
Lophelia pertusa is a species of cold-water coral which grows in the deep waters throughout the North Atlantic ocean, as well as parts of the Caribbean Sea and Alboran Sea. L...

, in this region.

A motorboat
A motorboat is a boat which is powered by an engine. Some motorboats are fitted with inboard engines, others have an outboard motor installed on the rear, containing the internal combustion engine, the gearbox and the propeller in one portable unit.An inboard/outboard contains a hybrid of a...

 owned by the Carnegie Institute
Carnegie Institute
Carnegie Institute can refer to:*Carnegie Institute, operator of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania*Carnegie Institution for Science , Washington, D.C....

 of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 named Anton Dohrn in the early 20th century served in the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 as the patrol vessel  from 1917 to 1919.


External links

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