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RUSSIAN ZOOLOGISTS IN NAPLES

Дата публикации: 30 августа 2021
Автор(ы): Sergei FOKIN
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: БИОЛОГИЯ
Номер публикации: №1630326014


Sergei FOKIN, (c)

by Sergei FOKIN, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), leading research assistant of the Invertebrate Zoology Chair, St. Petersburg State University

 

A magnificent view unfolds before us from the sea embankment: the two-prong giant Vesuvius to the left, whose right top seems as if it is going to emit smoke again, the cut-off contours of Capri in front and Posillipo residential quarters rising in terraces to a steep cliff to the right. It is Italy, Naples, and the view opens from the Villa Comunale gates, the Zoological Station in Naples. Surrounded by a small park, the main façade of the fundamental building looks on to the gulf practically in the same way as a hundred years ago. Though at that time there was no stream of cars on the embankment, separated now from the open water by a breakwater of marble blocks, and the public idling along the park was more well-ordered: ladies under open-work umbrellas and gentlemen with walking-sticks. At the station, apart from Italian and more often German speech, Russian was also heard, as our countrymen always received here hearty welcome. In fact, the first Russian biologists came to Naples long before an international scientific institute was established there by German zoologist Anton Dorn (1840-1909).

 

The advance of the biological science in the second half of the 19th century was predetermined in many ways by the work of British natural scientist and traveler Charles Darwin On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859. For a few next decades scientists were busy mainly with checking and confirmation of his ideas. The necessity to study anatomy and embryology of sea animals, especially those referred to lower groups, after acquaintance with his theory of evolution became apparent, as just these representatives of invertebrates and chordates were the main species for understanding of historical links and unity of the animal world origin. The elaboration of zoological and, in particular, embryological subjects acquired biological and even philosophical sounding at that time. Thanks to the works of the classics of the national natural

 
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science, member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1890) Alexander Kovalevsky and honorary member of the same academy (1902), Nobel Prize winner of 1908 Ilya Mechnikov, the Russian scientific school held a leading position in the world in the late 19th century. As a matter of fact, it is they, who laid a foundation for comparative embryology of invertebrates.

 

In short, the interest in marine fauna was quite justified in those years. However, successful studies of the history of animal development and zootomy (as embryology and anatomy were called at that time) required rather convenient conditions for long-term field works. Soon biological stations began to appear on the coasts of European seas: Concarneau (1859) and Roscoff (1872) in France, Sevastopol (1871) in Russia. A considerable part of them was situated on the Mediterranean coast: in Naples (1873), Trieste (1876), Banyuls (1882), Villafranca (1886) and Rovigno (1891).

 

Of course, even before these centers were set up, scientists worked privately on the Mediterranean Sea using microscopes and ordinary instruments, which they had brought with them, and made arrangements with local fishermen about a capture of necessary sea animals and studied them in a hotel room or a hired apartment. It was common practice prevalent from the beginning of the 1860s. The same is true of newcomers to Naples, which is situated on the bay coast, and whose animal world is extremely diverse and was poorly studied at that time.

 

"He who had never been in Naples did not see a real people's life", wrote the connoisseur of Italy Pavel Muratov (1881-1950). "He who had no opportunity to study the Mediterranean fauna", we would like to continue the thought of the above-mentioned art historian, "missed a lot as a zoologist". It was clear to our predecessors, who strived to work at such blessed places for any biologist.

 

From the zoological point of view, the Bay of Naples represented at that time, partly also today, a part of the Tyrrhenian Sea rich in benthic and pelagic inhabitants (living at the bottom and in the thickness of water). A large territory clearly limited by a chain of islands has a substantial difference in depths—from coastal shallow waters to the kilometer-long water column near the Capri Island—with a permanent temperature of 13°C in layers below 300 m. On the surface it reaches 26-28°C in summer and does not drop, as a rule, below 13°C in winter. Practically all groups of invertebrates and fish are well represented in the local fauna, whose number exceeded 1,000 species already at the end of the 19th century.

 

The Russian scientists, who worked in Italy before the Zoological Station in Naples was established and who became widely recognized in Europe due to their works, to a certain degree influenced the idea of organization of this station. The embryological studies of representatives of different groups of invertebrates and lower chordates carried out on the Mediterranean Sea (first of all, in Naples) by Kovalevsky and Mechnikov in 1865-1870 elicited a wide response among works of that time. It is a fact that other scientists also worked there, including the famous German zoologist and parasitologist Rudolf Leuckart, naturalists German Carl Vogt, and Swiss Eduard Kla-parede, Englishman Erwin Ray Lancaster, etc.

 

They usually settled in a cheap ancient district of the city near the fishing harbor known due to the famous Neapolitan song "Santa Lucia". Such neighborhood enabled them to get fresh material from fishermen and study it on the spot not wasting time. Some Neapolitans were known for their good knowledge of the local fauna and ability to find quickly the animals ordered by the zoologists. There was a certain Giovanni among them. who supplied sea animals to Kovalevsky and later on to

 
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the whole station. Due to his assistance, in spring of 1865 at 31 Santa Lucia our scientist managed to trace the development of the lancelet (Amphioxus lanceolatus), a small pisciform creature of the unknown taxonomy at that time. This work, which Kovalevsky used as a basis for his master's thesis defended in late 1865 at St. Petersburg University, gave rise to comparative evolutionary embryology. The well-known Austrian zoologist Berthold Hatschek wrote in 1881: "We can call this work the beginning of a new epoch in comparative anatomy, an epoch which was founded and advanced by further extensive works of Kovalevsky, so we even can state that it was created solely by him".

 

However, private research in the conditions unfit for long-term observations did not satisfy the scientists. Therefore, in the city of Messina on Sicily in 1868-1869, young graduates of Jena University (Germany) Anton Dohrn and Nikolai Miklukho-Maklai, a future Russian ethnographer and anthropologist, decided to create a permanent zoological station. Their idea was realized in 1872-1873 in Naples due to enthusiasm of Dohrn, his painstaking work and faith in the importance of the work which they had started. They received both moral and material support from many contemporaries, including the Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi and Charles Darwin himself. As a matter of fact, this first center of international scientific cooperation, a real zoological "Mecca" of late 19th-early 20th centuries, became a main monument to its creator.

 

As organization of the station had actually a private nature, the founder had to pay much attention to its long-term financing. Here he succeeded in finding a new solution, which proved to be justified. In addition to the revenues from the aquarium opened in 1874, he received financing from the "working table" system suggested by him and subscribed for a certain charge by governments

 
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of different countries, organizations and even private persons. Thereby Dohrn achieved a stable financing, as the more specialists expressed their will to come to the center, the higher was payment from their patrons before the beginning of the year. Moreover, there were no national preferences, despite the fact that the owner and director was a German, and the station was situated on the Italian territory. This determined from the outset an international character of the established institute.

 

Dohrn's idea received a cordial encouragement from well-known Russian zoologists, such as corresponding member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1874), Rector of St. Petersburg University Karl Kessler, corresponding member of the same academy (from 1890), professor of Moscow University and an influential public figure Anatoly Bogdanov, and later on also the "father" of embryology Academician Karl Baer, who was skeptical of the Neapolitan project in the beginning. The problem of hiring the first "working table" for Russians, raised on the initiative of Baer and Kessler, was settled favorably by the State Council at the end of December 1873. In 1874 our biologists Igor Raevsky and Vladimir Zelensky were the first to come to Naples. They opened a long list of our countrymen, and their stream did not stop for almost 55 years.

 

At that time Russia had only a small station in Sevastopol at its disposal. There were no permanent premises, and the working conditions could not be compared in any way with Naples. It is logical, therefore, that from 1875 Russia started leasing already two "working tables" in Italy. Payment at the rate of 560 rubles per table was made in advance from the funds of the Ministry of Public Education. Obviously, some "overpayment" of the first years (very few people went there at that time) enabled Dohrn later to meet our specialists half-way, as sometimes some of them went there even without the

 
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government support (i.e. without payment). It should be noted that hospitality of the director spread much further than the saved funds. The lease of two working places was extended in 1883, 1889 and 1893. But in the 1880s, there were set up other biological stations, which also got insignificant state subsidy at the end of the 19th century, and national bureaucracy turned down the idea at all. Fortunately, the active stand of a number of scientists and successful diplomacy of Dohrn himself led to the opposite effect, and from 1904 the number of Russian working places increased to four.

 

Up to the outbreak of World War I, visits to the Neapolitan Station by our countrymen had positive dynamics. For example, during the first 10 years they went there 25 times, during the second decade—55, in the third decade-60 and for the last 8 pre-war years (1906-1914)—82 times! Besides, some of them visited the place more than once.

 

Moreover, Russian researchers, scientific and educational organizations were on a permanent distribution list of preserved inhabitants of the Bay of Naples (sale of collection materials made a substantial part of the station's income). St. Petersburg zoologists Oskar Grimm, Nikolai Vagner and Filipp Ovsyannikov and also Ilya Mechnikov, professor of Odessa (Novorossiysk) and St. Petersburg Universities were the first to receive an experimental material from abroad at the end of the 1870s. Repeated requests for preparations of different animals were made by Pyotr Stepanov (Kharkov) and Vladimir Zelensky (Odessa). Collective applications were received from the universities of St. Petersburg, Kharkov, Kazan and Odessa, and also from the Zoological Museum of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. In 1881-1882 they ordered also microscopic preparations.

 

As to the station itself, its well-arranged daily system of animal delivery opened up ample opportunities for acquaintance with a diversity of sea inhabitants (this is what young zoologists, especially students, were engaged in) and comprehensive studies of specific groups or development of a special subject. Following the general trend of the development of zoology in the late 19th century, Russian scientists were engaged in Naples, first of all, in embryological research, and a part of the works had a morpho-faunistic nature. Experiments started at the end of the century, as well as botanical, biophysical and biochemical research. Later on scientists turned to the development of comparative physiological direction,

 
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which resulted in the creation of a special laboratory in 1906. The station was gradually transformed from a zoological to general biological one.

 

Dohrn visited Russia many times and sometimes stayed there for long, as he had not only business interests but also blood relationship. He married Maria, a daughter of the former Saratov governor Yegor Baranovsky; she possessed a large estate Vydrenka in the Mogilev gubemia. One of his four sons Reinhard (Rinaldo) also married a Muscovite Tatyana Zhivago. It is just he, who helped his father in management and became director of the station after Dohrn's death in 1909.

 

Anton and Reinhard Dohrns commissioned Vasily Ulyanin, Eduard Meir, Vladimir Shevyakov, Nikolai Livanov and Vladimir Zelensky to write 6 monographs for a series Fauna and Flora of the Bay of Naples. Unfortunately, only works by Ulyanin (1884) and Shevyakov (1926) were published. The work devoted to polychaeta (polychaeta class worms belonging to the annelid type Annelida (from Latin annelus), started by Meir during his work as an assistant at the station (1883-1889), after his departure from Naples in 1889 remained uncompleted. Livanov, who decided to continue the work of his teacher, also failed to complete it, as World War I frustrated his plans. Zelensky brought the monograph on sea leeches practically to a close. But a drastic limitation of departures from the USSR at the end of the 1920s, ill health in 1929 and his death in the spring of 1930 left this work unpublished either. The same is true of the monograph on infusoria of the Bay of Naples commissioned to Shevyakov in 1927. It is true, the work was far from completion, as the scientist just started to collect material; however,  neither in  1929 nor in  1930 did he manage to go abroad, and in the autumn of 1930 he suddenly died.

 

In 1887-1888, Member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1891) Andrei Famintsyn, founder of national plant physiology and one of the creators of the theory of symbiotic origin of an eukaryotic cell worked on the subject Symbiosis Between Animals and Plants in Naples. The zoologist and botanist Konstantin Merezhkovsky, founder of symbiogenesis (hypothesis on the origin of some intracellular structures resulting from a series of symbioses) studied protozoa, lower organisms Metazoa and animal pigments (1879-1882). The embry-ologist Pyotr Ivanov, who visited Naples twice (in 1903 and 1910), collected the basic material, which enabled him to create later the theory of nepionic (larval) segments, which constituted none other than a law of metameric* animal development, one of the major generalizations in embryology of the 20th century. In 1909, 1913 and 1932 the well-known physicist Sergei Chakho-tin worked in these parts on a revolutionary invention (UV shot) for cell and experimental biology and also carried out studies in electrophysiology and biolumines-cence.

 

Most of the works by Nikolai Koltsov, one of the pioneers of national experimental zoology and genetics, corresponding member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1916), devoted to organization of cytoskeleton (backbone) and general morphology of the animal cell, were also carried out in Naples (1910-1927). There Konstantin Davydov, a follower of the experimental approach in biology and the author of the

 

 

* Metamerism is fragmentation of the body of some groups of plant and animal organisms to similar parts (metamers). -Ed.

 
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first national textbook on invertebrate embryology, studied regeneration processes among some marine organisms, and the founder of the St. Petersburg genetic scientific school Yuri Filipchenko studied development of crustaceans and processes of phagocytosis in 1912. A number of famous Russian physiologists also successfully worked there, namely, member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Filipp Ovsyannikov, corresponding member of the same Academy Nikolai Vvedensky and member of the USSR Academy of Sciences Leon Orbeli *, hydrobiologists and zoologists academicians Sergei Zernov, Lev Zenkevich, Alexei Severtsov, Valentin Dogel, Konstantin Deryugin, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), and member of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences Vladimir Beklemishev.

 

It is also important that there worked scientists, who took part in the foundation and development of our marine biological stations. Thus, all staff members of the Sevastopol Station passed training in Naples in different years, and if the obtained organizational and functioning experience was not used directly, it was taken into account on the Black Sea. For example, the first head of the station Vasily Ulyanin repeatedly (1875-1884) visited Naples, two other station employees Alexei Ostroumov and Sergei Zernov worked there in 1885, 1889 and 1906, and the above-mentioned Alexander Kovalevsky visited it in 1887 and returned in 1889 immediately after his appointment as its director.

 

The same path was taken by the Russian Zoological Station in Villafranca (1886) situated in France on the Mediterranean Sea. Its founder and the first director, corresponding member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1903) Alexei Korotnev visited Naples three times before he headed his own center.

 

He got acquainted with Mikhail Davydov there (1891), who became his assistant several years later. The founder of the Biological Station on the Solovki (1881), corresponding member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1898), Nikolai Vagner worked in Italy in 1883 and 1892, two heads of the Murmansk Station Sergei Averintsev and German Klüge visited Italy in 1902 and 1901, and one of the main organizers of the development of the northern station in a new place—in Murman (today the town of Polyarny)— Konstantin Deryugin went through training in Naples in 1902.

 

It is true that an opportunity to work in this blessed place from the beginning of the 20th century up to 1914 is connected to a great extent with the name of corresponding member of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1908) Vladimir Shevyakov, one of the major national protozoologists. He got acquainted with Dohrn in 1890 after his round-the-world journey, and then he visited Italy 7 times and was one of the authors of the project dealing with the payment of four "working tables" for our scientists accepted at the end of 1903. As a professor of St. Petersburg University (1896-1911) and then as a deputy minister of public education (1911-1917), he carried out direct supervision of business trips abroad of his students and colleagues. His friendly relations with Dohrn favored this activity. The international scientific cooperation acquired a wider scope.

 

Unfortunately, hard times set in Europe in 1914, which certainly affected also the development of science. In the summer of 1915, Italy entered World War I on the side of the Entente, a military-political bloc of Britain, France and the tsarist Russia. Director of the station Reinhard Dohrn, as the whole German part of the staff, had to leave Naples. Together with his family he moved

 

 

See: Ya. Renkas, "The Orbeli Triad", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2002. -Ed.

 
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to neutral Switzerland. During the war and the consequent confusion, the institute was not officially closed, but the "working tables" were not paid, thus, there was no influx of funds. However, in 1920, appeals to Dohrn's return began to sound. In April 1924, he got an appointment as an administrative director and set to work on restoration of the station. Owing to mobilization of old relations and restoration of agreements with leaseholder countries, Reinhard managed to increase the number of researchers from 19 to 130 within a year. By 1927, the "working tables" were rented by Italy (15), Germany (14), USSR (4), USA (4), England (3) and eight more states, including Japan, which rented one place each.

 

Altogether 15 Soviet scientists worked at the station at that time; this number corresponded to the most productive year of 1909 for Russia. "You can always hear German, Italian, English and almost always, especially lately, Russian languages here", wrote the well-known Russian hydrobiologist and zoologist Arvid Bening in 1928. It was planned to further develop this cooperation: Glavnauka* assigned funds for the purchase of microscopes for visitors from the USSR. However, after 1929, nobody could make use of them, as our scientists were no longer allowed to visit the capitalist and then fascist Italy. The aforesaid Sergei Chakhotin was the last Russian scientist, who carried out research at the Neapolitan Station in early 1930s. As a former assistant to the Nobel Prize winner (1904), Academician Ivan Pavlov at the Physiological Laboratory of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, he went to Naples not from Russia, but from the Heidelberg, Germany. In all, 163 of our countrymen visited this center 250 times from 1874 to 1932.

 

Despite certain attempts to restore scientific relations with Naples during the Gorbachev perestroika (1985-1991) and declarations to this effect, no tangible advance was achieved, though our scientists visit Naples even now but only to attend conferences. It is a pity as the Neapolitan Zoological Station named after Anton Dohrn is, as before, a first-rate scientific institute engaged in studies of marine biology and receives foreign specialists every year.

 

The work is executed within the framework of the subject supported by grant No. 10-06-00124a of the Russian Fund of Fundamental Research.

 

The author expresses gratitude to the Archives of the Neapolitan Zoological Station named after Anton Dohrn (supervisor Dr. C. Groeben) for an opportunity to use photographs kept in its funds.

 

 

* Glavnauka is the Main Department of Scientific, Museum and Art Institutions of the RSFSR People's Commissariat of Education in 1921-1930. -Ed.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 30 августа 2021 года

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