Anton Dohrn

Felix Anton Dohrn ( Poland , 29 of September of 1840 – Munich , 26 of September of 1909 ) was a German zoologist prominent Darwinist , founder and first director of the Zoological Station in Naples .

Biographical synthesis

Raised in a bourgeois family, he studied zoology at the German universities of Königsberg , Bonn , Jena and Berlin , without much enthusiasm. This circumstance changed around 1862, when he arrived at Jena; there Ernst Haeckel introduced him to the studies and theories of Charles Darwin . From that moment, Dohrn became a fervent admirer of the Darwinian theory of descent with modification, that is, the theory of evolution by natural selection. This is how he decided to dedicate his future life to collecting ideas and facts that supported the ideas of Darwinism.

Dohrn obtained a doctorate in 1865, in Breslau , with a study on the anatomy of hemiptera . Just three years later, he obtained the qualification to teach at the University of Jena . As an embryologist he dealt mainly with insects and crustaceans , and tried to clarify their development from lower life forms, according to Darwinian ideas.

At that time, comparatively, embryology was becoming the cornerstone of morphology and evolution, according to Ernst Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation : the idea that an organism during its embryonic development passes through the main stages of evolution of the evolutionary past of its species. Morphology became one of the main ways in which zoologists sought expansion, and thus Darwinian theory developed in the last thirty years of the 19th century. Dohrn became a Darwinian morphologist who combined the evolutionism of Charles Darwin and the embryologism of Karl Ernst von Baer.

Dohrn worked at the Helgoland beach facilities , with Ernst Haeckel , in 1865; at Hamburg in 1866; in Millport ( Scotland ), with David Robertson , in 1867y 1868; and in Messina ( island of Sicily ) during the winter of 1868-1869, together with his Russian friend Nicolai Micloucho-Maclay . In Messina, these two scientists had the brilliant idea to cover the planet with a network of zoological research stations, similar to train stations, where scientists could stop, collect material, make observations and carry out experiments, before moving to the next station.

In Messina, Dohrn rented a couple of rooms to install the first zoological station in that city (February, 1869) , but soon realized the difficulties involved in studying the marine world without a permanent structure (difficulties in collecting species, lack of storage tanks with sea water, lack of library and lack of technical assistance from qualified personnel). Faced with these drawbacks, Dohrn began to insist on the need for scientists to be able to work near the sea with all kinds of services available to them: laboratory material, instruments, chemical products, books and recordings of where and when certain species could be found. , as well as useful information on the conditions of the place.

He abandoned Messina, his books, his equipment, his diaries and the portable aquarium that he had brought from Scotland and, in 1870, decided that Naples could be the ideal place for his station. This decision was due to the great biological wealth of the Gulf of Naples and also to the possibility of creating a research institute of international relevance in a large city that, itself, had a strong international vocation. The foundation of the Zoological Station in Naples occurred in March 1872.

His theoretical views are condensed in his 1875 work Ursprung der Wirbeltiere und das Prinzip des Funktionswechsels, in which he brings down vertebrates from annelids, and attempted to explain the alleged emergence of new organs by the transformation of existing ones. The same views are found expanded and completed in Studien zur Urgeschichte des Wirbeltierkörpers (1882-1891). He also wrote a monograph on the pantopods of the Gulf of Naples (1881).


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