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The Stazione Zoologica did not have an in-house research program, apart from Anton Dohrn’s own project, and therefore its structure reflected the major interests of the visiting scientists. However, Dohrn recognized the significance of different sections of science, and the way in which they interact and complement each other. In such a way he was able to create a structure perfectly in tune with the main scientific issues of the time and to bring the best researchers to Naples. Embryology, Comparative Anatomy, Systematic Botany and Zoology, including natural history, ecology and the study of behavior, were the main fields of research in the early decades of the Stazione Zoologica’s activity.
storia3Founded in an era when morphological studies predominated, paradoxically the Zoological Station in 1880 becomes a stronghold of the revolt against Haeckelian phylogenetic embryology. The new generation of biologists is placed in an extremely critical attitude towards the morphological tradition and supports the implementation of a new experimental method to the problems of development, thus giving rise to a new era in the study of embryonic development. The different stages of embryonic development are not observed to obtain the evidence in favor of the phylogenetic inferences, these are not a tool of explanation but become themselves processes to explain, by identifying their causes. Experimental addresses make their way into other areas, such as the study of the cell, the theory of inheritance, the same theory of evolution. The function replaces the objective form of scientific inquiry as an explanatory principle. An object of study, a marine animal of course, is particularly suitable for this experimental research, the sea urchin. With this new tool and new experimental methodology the famous “injury experiment” was conducted in 1888. With a thin needle, Wilheim Roux destroys the nucleus of one of the two cells formed after the first segmentation of the zygote: the undamaged embryo continued its normal development of producing 'half an embryo', demonstrating that cell division is qualitative and each of the primary cells has a predetermined fate, independent from the presence of other cells and from the later stages of development.

Some years after Jacques Loeb realized in Naples artificial insemination, showing that the sea urchin egg can start development when exposed to an acid or to an increase in osmotic pressure. This experimental ' chemical parthenogenesis ' has a great impact on the scientific community and public opinion. Someone even suggested that women should avoid swimming in the sea, because of the risk of chemical parthenogenesis.

In 1889 the German biologist Theodor Boveri began his experiments in Naples on 'hybridisation' of different species of sea urchin, in order to determine whether the core, the protoplasm or both determine inheritance and development. Boveri demonstrates the dominant role of the nucleus in heredity and genetic diversity of the chromosomes, establishing a link with the Mendelian theory, which had just been rediscovered and proposing an initial 'chromosome theory of heredity’.

Between 1908 and 1914, Otto Warburg spent several periods at the Stazione Zoologica, where he carried out his first independent research on the oxygen consumption by the urchin egg after fertilization. In 1909 he discovered that iron is essential for the development of the larval state, thus beginning a new research program on cellular breathing, research that later won him the 1931 Nobel Prize for his discovery of the cytochrome oxydase.

Between 1866 and 1945 Thomas Hunt Morgan works at the Stazione Zoologica before turning to genetics and create the 'Drosophila Group ', giving rise to the chromosome theory of inheritance.

Nel 1889 il biologo tedesco Theodor Boveri inizia a Napoli i suoi esperimenti di "ibridazione" fra specie diverse di riccio di mare, allo scopo di stabilire se è il nucleo, il protoplasma o entrambi a determinare l'eredità e lo sviluppo. Boveri dimostra il ruolo dominante del nucleo nella trasmissione ereditaria e la diversità genetica dei cromosomi, stabilendo un legame con la teoria mendeliana, che era stata appena riscoperta e proponendo una prima "teoria cromosomica dell'eredità".

Fra il 1908 e il 1914, Otto Warburg trascorre diversi periodi alla Stazione, dove realizza la sua prima ricerca indipendente sul consumo di ossigeno da parte dell'uovo di riccio dopo la fecondazione. Nel 1909 egli scopre che il ferro è essenziale per lo sviluppo dello stato larvale, iniziando così un nuovo programma di ricerca sulla respirazione, che gli varrà il premio Nobel nel 1931 per la scoperta della citocromoossidasi.
Tra il 1866 e il 1945 Thomas Hunt Morgan lavora alla Stazione prima di dedicarsi alla genetica e creare il "Gruppo della Drosophila", dando origine alla teoria cromosomica dell'eredità.

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