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LBDV laboratory




The marine station of Villefranche-sur-Mer has several features which make it a very special and interesting place to research biology. First there is the exceptional marine life of ​​the Bay of Villefranche and its particular geography (no continental shelf). It reaches very quickly significant depths, over 1000m, which remain easily accessible with small boats at a short distance from the shore. The combination of favorable hydrodynamic conditions and an exceptional marine fauna, make for it that at certain times of the year deep water lifts deep-sea species up to the surface and makes them easily accessible to researchers. The harbor functions as a trap for pelagic fauna. A third favorable parameter is the presence of a historic port (la Darse) and its annexes, built in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Dukes of Savoy. For example the "bâtiment des galériens", in which a part of the LBDV laboratories are localized, was  originally the prison for galley slaves of the Dukes of Savoy, who then had to maintain their galleys in order to defend the immense territory and their unique access to the Sea (Nice did not have a harbor yet). Scientists didn’t fail to notice this exceptional opportunity to observe and study the pelagic marine fauna and have taken advantage of the buildings available to begin their studies which gave life to the research subjects of the two laboratories now located on the website (LOV and LBDV).


The LBDV’s activities continue a long tradition of basic biology research on the Villefranche-sur-mer site. Amongst the first biologists present were Hermann Fol and Jules Barrois, who set up a first laboratory on the site in 1882. Both are zoologists and embryologists. In 1885 the marine station was officially created and recognized, it will continue to flourish for here on out. In 1882-1885, when the first laboratory was established by Barrois and Fol, the main focus of study was the morphology and development of planktonic and benthic organisms in the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer.


Barrois published his research on the metamorphosis of sea urchins, brittle stars and ear, embryogenesis of feather stars and homologies of echinoderm larvae in 1885. Fol pioneered the use of microscopy to study fertilization, cell division and embryogenesis, and made several important contributions to advancing scientific understanding. By studying starfish eggs under the microscope he was able for the first time to describe the entry of the sperm nucleus into the egg cytoplasm, followed by fusion of the male and female pro-nuclei.  He also described the oocyte’s two meiotic divisions, to produce a haploid gamete. All these topics, fundamentally important in the biomedical domain, are today being addressed by LBDV groups with modern approaches in microscopy and genomics, in order to discover the molecules and structures that regulate them.


Observation of the steps of fertilisation as seen in a starfish egg, drawings by H Fol 1879

The laboratory acquires every year more optical instruments for observation and each year the progress was published in a collection of works. If you want to see a extract of such publication you can find 4 pdfs HERE for the years 1885 to 1889 including the adventures of the acquisition of the first research vessel for the station (LINK - add the links to Chiara documents). The Zoological Station undergoes several changes and gradually becomes the first multidisciplinary French Oceanographic station and gradually evolves into the Oceanographic Observatory as it is today.

Many other notable international scientists have since then visited and worked in the station of Villefranche-sur-Mer. In 1884 Elie Metchnikoff (later a Nobel Prize winning cell biologist and immunologist) conducted a study on embryogenesis in jellyfish while visiting the Villefranche Marine Station. His monograph on the subject, published in 1886, was an important contribution to the emerging discipline of comparative embryology.  From his observations, Metchnikoff realized that  gastrulation is an evolutionarily ancient and conserved process amongst animals, vital for putting in place the primary ‘germ layers’. In 1885 Korotneff publishes his research on the early stages and the formation of the embryo in salps that seems to confirm the doctrine of Salensky about how little the role of blastomeres is. In 1886 several researchers publish their results that they obtained in the marine station of Villefranche-sur-Mer: Mr. Pictet has done research on spermatogenesis of various invertebrates; Mr. Du Plessis researched the polyp fauna of Nice and Villefranche; Mr. Lee commented on the spermatogenesis of sagittae (Memory published in the Journal of Carnoy); Mr. Raphaël Dubois continued work on phosphorescence in various marine animals (the Phyllirhoe, the Ctenophora, etc.) and Mr. Hermann Fol published research on the structure of muscles in molluscs. Today, LBDV scientists are studying and comparing gastrulation mechanisms in diverse animal models with modern microscopy and gene function analysis techniques.

It was during the years 60-70 that the cell biology research on unicellular organisms (protists), fish physiology and the study of development gradually was reborn in the zoological station. R. Lallier settled in Villefranche-sur-Mer in the 60s and he continued his research on the development of sea urchin embryos. In the 80s the creation of a biological research laboratory was a fact, enabling a bright future with several new model animals.

For more information on the history of the Oceanographic Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer please consult the XXX booklet?


Link to document Richard (experience research in the 70’s? – send email)

Link to document Villefranche – Naples?


Confocal microscope image of gastrulation in Clytia by Tsuyoshi Momose, LBDV

(PLoS Biology 2007)



Description of gastrulation in Clytia by Elie Metchnikoff from his monograph: “Embryologische Studien an Medusen.“ (1886) 





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