The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 425 - 436 (2012)

Vol 56, Issue 6-7-8

Special Issue: The Hydra Model System

The Trembley Effect or the birth of marine zoology

Published: 8 June 2012

Marc J. Ratcliff*

Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland


At a time when Europe was engaged in the War of Austrian succession, an unknown scholar, Abraham Trembley, managed to dramatically influence the course of the Natural Sciences. He focused his interest not only on the properties of a new organism, the polyp later named Hydra, and its freshwater environment, but also on the communication of his discoveries to the most estimable scholarly circles of his time. Under the patronage of influential scholars, Réaumur in Paris and Folkes in London, he forged a new perspective on a common object – water. Everyone had seen a glass of water and through it he could project the concept of a wet laboratory and hence reshape the experimental practices of naturalists. His research propelled a surge of interest for investigation of the aquatic environment, a new line of investigative force that can be called the Trembley Effect. This effect pushed scholars to explore the shallow areas of water, to test the properties of tiny aquatic bodies, to examine the frontiers between organisms. Thanks to Trembley, it was the first time that, in a fully artificial setting, man could give life to an animal species, a practice that created for all of those who tried it, an enigmatic feeling of power that stirred passions for decades. Indeed this experimental approach that emerged in parallel to Linnaean classifications, inaugurated a new phase of Natural Sciences.


Abraham Trembley, History of natural sciences, Hydra, Marine zoology, Trembley Effect

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