Talk:Hubrecht Collection

From Embryology

General Embryological Information Service

Published annually by the Hubrecht Laboratory, 1949-1981


The General Embryological Information Service (GEIS) was an annual report published by the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht, The Netherlands from 1949 to 1981 that disseminated contemporary research information to developmental biologists. The purpose of the annual report was to catalog the names, addresses, and associated research of every developmental biologist in the world. Pieter Nieuwkoop edited each issue from 1949 until 1964, when Job Faber began assisting Nieuwkoop. Bert Z. Salomé joined the editing team in 1968 before Nieuwkoop ceased editing duties in 1971. Faber and Salomé remained the editors from 1971 until the periodical's final year of circulation in 1981. The Hubrecht Laboratory, a national laboratory created to house a large collection of comparative embryological materials and loan them to interested researchers, sponsored the publication after World War II to facilitate international collaboration and prevent unnecessary duplication of work. The catalog of researchers and the scientific topics grew in number and variety as the field of developmental biology changed during the publication's thirty-two year history.

Ambrosius Arnold Willem Hubrecht created the Institut International d'Embryologie (International Institute of Embryology) in Utrecht, The Netherlands, in 1911. Hubrecht had championed Charles Darwin's work in the late nineteenth century, and Hubrecht collected specimens of embryos from around the world to demonstrate evolutionary connections between animals. Near the end of his life Hubrecht tried to establish an international community of embryologists through the Institut, but World War I disrupted his visions. In 1916, the year after Hubrecht's death, the Dutch scientific community made his collection available to scientists across the world, and thereby furthered Hubrecht's mission of developing an international research network. The Dutch Royal Academy refounded the Institut as the Hubrecht Laboratory to honor its creator.

The Hubrecht Laboratory realized Hubrecht's goal to create an international institute, and for the first thirty years of its existence, director Daniel De Lange loaned out the institute's collections of comparative embryological specimens to interested researchers. In 1947 Chris P. Raven, professor at the University of Utrecht and the newly named director of the Hubrecht Laboratory, developed a new service to help support international research in embryology. He created the GEIS, which he modeled after the Drosophila Information Service (DIS), an annual report created by Calvin Bridges and Milislav Demerec in the US in 1934. The DIS catalogued research on Drosophila melanogaster, recording all scientists and institutions involved with these fruit flies. The GEIS aimed to record the same information for the entire field of embryology. Financially, GEIS relied on subscribers and contributions from institutions such as the International Union of Biological Sciences, the Organization of Pure Scientific Research in the Netherlands, and later the General Embryological Information Service Foundation.

Before 1947, the Hubrecht Laboratory focused on establishing international collaboration in the field of embryology. However, when Raven took over, he and his newly appointed deputy director, Nieuwkoop, expanded the services of the laboratory beyond providing access to embryology collections. In particular, experimental research had become a prominent part of embryology, but the laboratory's collections were more appropriate for descriptive and comparative purposes. To involve the organization in experimental science without conducting research, Raven and Nieuwkoop decided that the Laboratory could act as an information hub, collecting and disseminating information about experiments. This information would include who was conducting embryology research, the focus of their research, and where it was occurring. At that time, besides talking to and writing each other, there were few means for researchers to find out what others were researching across the globe. Instead, they had to wait until other scientists published their results to learn of new developments, a method of information transfer that many felt caused too much unnecessary overlap between experiments. Furthermore, Europeans in the late 1940s were rebuilding their nations in the aftermath of World War II. Many scientific communities had fragmented during the war as scientists fled occupied territories and as allied countries funded war-related projects rather than basic biological research. Raven and Nieuwkoop envisioned a catalog that would help rebuild the international embryology community through the sharing of information, and that would help create new collaborations between individuals.

Beginning in 1948, the GEIS editors sent out an annual survey to every known embryologist and related scientific institution. The form requested the names and addresses of the embryologists, information on their home institutions, and the details of their current research projects, not including recently published research. The GEIS editors compiled the returned information and created a catalog of embryology, which institutions and individual researchers paid yearly dues to receive. In 1949, the first year of the GEIS publication, Nieuwkoop included nearly 700 names and addresses of embryologists from 245 institutions in twenty-eight countries. Nieuwkoop continued to expand the GEIS throughout his time as director of the Laboratory, from 1953 until 1980. By the time Nieuwkoop retired in 1980, the GEIS boasted 3,400 names from 1,200 institutions in fifty different countries.

For the first two decades of its existence, each full length GEIS issue consisted of about nine sections. Each issue began with an introduction by the editor, which contained an explanation of any slight changes in organization and an update on any relevant news concerning the publication. A number of directories followed. The first was an alphabetical list of embryologists' names, with associated addresses and research. The next directory was organized geographically and by institution. For instance, Viktor Hamburger, who studied neural development, was listed under United States – Missouri – Washington University, as were his colleagues Thomas Hall, Florence Moog, Rita Levi-Montalcini, and Eleanor Wenger. Organizing researchers by geographical location made it possible to see where concentrations of embryologists could be found throughout the world.

The catalog of current research subjects was the third and the largest directory of the report. In this section, researchers were organized according to topic, as described by each researcher. For instance, Viktor Hamburger's work in 1949 on the "Control of proliferation and differentiation of the nervous system" was organized under Experimental Developmental Morphology – Development of Organ-systems – Nervous system, ganglia, nerves and enveloping membranes – Central Nervous System. Alongside the subject was a code that identified the type of organism used in the research, as listed in the code legend. In this case, Hamburger worked with chickens (Gallus gallus), which were coded using an L, meaning aves, or birds. Starting with the 1965 volume, the subject list was reorganized into an alphabetical index of topics, and information on the organisms used was reduced.

Overall, the subject directory allowed subscribers to see who was working on closely related topics. The editors of the GEIS printed this type of information to facilitate new collaborations and to deter needless overlap in research. To keep the service as useful as possible, the editors constantly reminded subscribers to report their current projects, not recent publications, as up-to-date bibliographies were available through other channels. The GEIS editors found that scientists' work did not change dramatically from year to year and beginning in 1953, the editors published the subject directory on a biennial basis, with a supplement published in off years. In 1973 the editors changed the organization to reflect the growing number of researchers listed. They released one issue per year, and two issues comprised a volume. The first issue reported data on European researchers, and the second issue reported data on researchers outside of Europe.

The later sections of the GEIS were generally short communications, and the first of these sections discussed new technical methods. The next section, called "Supply and Demand," included information from researchers looking to buy, trade, or sell research subjects. Communications from the Hubrecht Laboratory comprised an additional section, where the editors discussed lab services offered, including a reprint library and the catalog of slides and specimens, all of which were available to subscribers. The GEIS also often included an announcements section that related news from the field, such as communications from relevant societies like the Embryological Section of the International Union of Biological Sciences. The final section of the GEIS reviewed relevant literature for teaching, including monographs and new journals. All sections aside from the subject directory and the new methods section continued to be produced annually, but appeared as short supplementary sections with updates of any changes during years when the complete GEIS was not published. After the reorganization of volume division in 1973, each annual issue still contained an introduction; three directories of researchers listed by name, by institute, then by subject; communications from organizations including the Hubrecht laboratory; and book notices and reviews.

The GEIS provides a record of how embryology changed between 1947 and 1981. The discovery of DNA in 1953 and the subsequent growth of molecular biology and biomedicine dramatically changed many biological fields, including embryology. The increase in numbers of researchers and active research locations noted in the GEIS provides a picture of the changing geographies of the field during this time. Similarly, the changes in the research directory reflect the evolution of the field of embryology. The GEIS recorded that fewer researchers used amphibians and arthropods as traditional focuses of experimental embryology that relied on these animal models became less popular. In contrast, the number of researchers working on development and pathology increased during the 1950s and 1960s as agencies such as the US National Institutes of Health funded research in those fields.

By the early 1980s, when the Hubrecht Laboratory stopped the publication of the GEIS, there was an international community of developmental biologists, and biologists studied embryology in scientific institutions around the world. As researchers communicated with each other in new ways and as the number of scientific journals grew, they decreasingly used the GEIS, a trend that reflected the rapidly diminishing subscriptions in the last few years of the GEIS. The Hubrecht Laboratory ceased publishing the report in 1981 because there were too few subscribers to support the service.


  1. Dietrich, Michael R., and Brandi H. Tambasco."Beyond the Boss and the Boys: Women and the Division of Labor in Drosophila Genetics in the United States, 1934–1970." Journal of the History of Biology 40 (2007): 509–28.
  2. Faasse, Patricia, Job Faber, and Jenny Narraway. "A Brief History of the Hubrecht Laboratory." The International Journal of Developmental Biology 43 (1999): 583–90.
  3. General Embryological Information Service reports, 1949–1981. Eds. Peter Nieuwkoop, Job Faber, Bert Z. Salomé. Utrecht: Hubrecht Laboratory. (Accessed October 31, 2012.)



by Charles S. Minot.

Evolutionists have hitherto been puzzled to find a full and satisfactory explanation of the persistency of certain types, such as the familiar Lingula and others, through long periods of the earth's past. Prof. A. A. W. Hubrecht of Utrecht has offered, in his inaugural address, an hypothesis which he thinks adequate to solve this problem. The address is published in full in Nature, nos. 690-691. We may pass over the first part, which contains familiar matter only, anil which, therefore, we venture to advise scientific readers to skip. The presentation of the author's own views begins near the bottom of the first column on p. 302. The habit of needless diffuseness in writing is a very grave encumbrance to scientific literature, and ought always to encounter the critic's emphatic condemnation.

The theory which Professor Hubrecht has advanced appears to us not only untenable, but unscientific; we think it might be characterized as pure speculation of that reckless quality which of late years has crept into zoology, considerably to the discredit of the science. To justify this condemnation, we will first slate the author's hypothesis, and afterward the objections to it.

The hypothesis may be summarized as follows:

1. In many animals the period of reproduction is a prolonged one ; so that there are young born of young parents, others of old parents, and, of course, of parents of intermediate age. A distinction therefore exists between first-born and last-born posterity.

2. Similarly, these first-born will likewise have firstand last-born; so, also, will the last-born; consequently there will be one set of generations of the first-born, and another set of the last-born.

3. In the first series the generations will follow rapidly, in the second series slowly, upon one another; hence, from a given pair, there will be in time numerous descendants; ,l a small number of these being descendants in a direct line of the first-born of every successive generation, another small number being the descendants in a direct line of the last-born of every successive generation." Consequently, of the contemporaneous generations, the individuals of the first set would have numerous ancestors ; those of the second set, not nearly so many.

4. The age of the parent affects the character of the progeny. Of this, Hubrecht is able to bring forward only one example, — apparently the only one known to him; namely, that Stone found in the McCloud River that the eggs of young salmon are smaller than those of old salmon.

5. "1 must now call your attention to the second cardinal point. . . . Heredity has, indeed, invested them [the progeny] with peculiarities, part of which show themselves in their organization; another part remaining latent, and only attaining development in following generations. Such a latent potential energy towards eventual modification of the individual or his progeny must needs find more occasions to unfold itself in the first-born, simply because these are possessed of a larger number of ancestors" (the italics are ours). 6. Asexual • reproduction is accompanied by less variation than sexual.

Prom these premises, the deduction: that the firstborn of sexual generations are the principal variants, and ergo the principal source of new species ; and the last-born, per contra, the representatives of stability.

In rejoinder to this plausible but specious argument, our contention is, first, that we cannot assume that there are really any series of first- and last-born ; second, that, granting the distinction between them, it cannot be assumed that one is more variable than the other ; third, granting both these premises, the facts of zoology cannot be made to show that the permanence of types is derived from the last-born, nor that the evolution of new species depends on primogeniture to any considerable extent.

First, Any succession of first-born would depend upon both parents being first-born; and the probability of both parents so being for any considerable number of generations is so infinitely small that it might be called zero. Let us take a species which pairs (a bird, for example), and where the male fertilizes only one female. Let us assume that in a given locality there are ten of each sex, and of various ages, and that there is an equal chance of any two pairing; then the probability of the first-born male pairing with the first-born female would be 1 in 100. The chances of the next set pairing in the same manner would be also 1 in 100, if we further assume, what is the usual case, that the number of individuals remains constant. The chances of both pairs being first-born would be 100 X 100, or 10,000. In nine generations the chance of their being all firstborn would become 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (one million million million). Now, for birds which become mature in one year, these are the chances for nine years. Birds are known first from the Jurassic, which we will call for convenience 1,000,000 years ago ; so that it might prove laborious to write out the chances for that period, the chance being the last term of a geometrical progression of which one million is the number of terms, and one hundred the ratio. Yet we have taken a case exaggeratedly in favor of Hubrecht's view. It were possible to adduce many arguments to show that the habits of animals often render the existence of a series of first-born improbable; but the previous calculation sufficiently disposes of Hubrecht's fundamental assumption. And, moreover, every such calculation would lead to essentially the same result, whatever the figures chosen to start with might be, because the chance is the last term of a geometrical progression. If Professor Hubrecht finds mathematics unconvincing, we would beg him to consult genealogical records, by which he could ascertain the carefully registered contradiction of his assumption that there is a series of the first-born, or even an approximation to it.

Second, We cannot accept the assertion, that a large number of ancestors increases the tendency to variability, because the direct influence of the progenitors upon the production of variations very rapidly diminishes as the number of generations increases. And, on the other hand, it is well known that long-inherited characteristics are the most constant. The more ancient a feature is, the greater its fixity: hence we might as well assume the opposite of Hubrecht' s assertion; viz., that the greater the number of ancestors, the more fixed the qualities of the young. Here it may be noticed, that although it is very probable that the parents' age causes modifications in the young, yet Hubrecht mentions only one fact to support the assertion, and that fact is the only one Drought forward to support any portion of his hypotheses. We certainly have no sufficient reason for agreeing with the assumption that first-born would be more variable than last-born.

Third, If we admit the two previous premises, we should still have to show that they have given us the determination of the real causes. If evolution by primogeniture were a real cause, then the most variable animals, or those classes where there are most species, would, in consequence of inherited habit, produce young while themselves young, and the stable types would have acquired the characteristics of reproducing very late. Such, however, is not the case. Insects, the most variable of types, reproduce, for the most part, at the end of their lives ; while the permanent type, Lingula, reproduces while young. Further objections might be added ; but sufficient has been said to explain, and, it is believed, to justify, the condemnation of the hypotheses involved in the author's generalization.

Professor Hubrecht, by his able morphological researches on various subjects, notably on the anatomy of nemertines, has earned a well-deserved esteem: and it is a matter of regret to have to criticise any writing of his severely; but the tendency to draw a maximum of conclusion from a minimum of fact is one to which we feel impelled to object most strenuously. Hubrecht (p. 279) speaks almost sneeringly of what he is pleased to call the school of scientific zoologists, 1 or those who have sought to elevate zoology above mere systematic work. The cause of his animus we do not know, but feel that he is hardly just, and not likely to wish to be called an unscientific zoologist himself. Of his hypothesis of development by primogeniture, our opinion has been expressed.

Charles S. Minot.

166 SCIENCE. Vol. I., No. 6.



Faasse, P., J. Faber and J. Narraway (1999) A brief history of the Hubrecht Laboratory. International Journal of Developmental Biology. 43.

Richardson, M. K. and J. Narraway (1999) A treasure house of comparative embryology. International Journal of Developmental Biology 43.