Most people would know the names of Crick and Watson if asked about the discovery in 1953 that the DNA molecule exists in the form of a three-dimensional double helix. Nine years later in 1962 Francis Crick and James Watson, along with Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. But consider another fundamental discovery in the biological sciences with an almost identical timeline. In 1952, Alan Hodgin and Andrew Huxley published their work on nerve cell excitability, with their findings recognised as being “a central pillar of modern neuroscience research”1 and fundamental to all modern physiological research2. The work was only made possible by the discovery by J. Z. Young working at Plymouth, Woods Hole and Naples in the 1930s, of the giant axon in squid that made these cephalopods the ideal model organism3 . Hodgkin and Huxley’s work, undertaken largely at the MBA laboratory in Plymouth, led to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963 (shared with John Eccles) but, as far as the wider public is concerned has received far less attention. The same comparisons can be drawn when looking at ocean exploration. For example, the publication of a biography of one of the great ocean pioneers William Beebe in 2004, prompted one online reviewer to ask why Neil Armstrong was a household name yet the first person to explore the depths of the ocean remains relatively unknown.

It is this feeling that the discipline of marine biology, although of enormous importance scientifically and from a conservation and socio-economic point of view, does not always merit the attention it deserves that prompted the MBA to consider an application for a Royal Charter. The MBA has an international membership and has been promoting marine biology and interest in the marine environment since its establishment as a learned society in 1884. The Royal Charter however provides formal recognition for the MBA’s role and, in 2013, the Charter was granted in ‘recognition of the MBA’s long and eminent history and its status within the field of marine biology’. The MBA is therefore the world’s only learned society dedicated purely to the study and promotion of marine biology to receive a Royal Charter.

Looking forward, the Association has invested a select group of individuals as Honorary Fellows (see opposite) who will help us to continue to raise the profile of oceans and we look forward to working with them more closely in the future.

Applications are also invited for the new MBA Fellows programme (email for details to—part of our commitment to promote and maintain excellence in marine biology as a discipline. We also want to recognise those outside of academia but who nevertheless play a vital role within the field of marine biology. To help ensure that a new generation has the opportunity to contribute to marine biology the Association is developing a new ‘Young Marine Biologist’ category. See page 36 for the latest information on this.

It is also important to us that we provide a forum for marine biological discussion and represent the community’s views, a key element of which is the launch of The Marine Biologist magazine. This edition of The Marine Biologist celebrates this pivotal event in the history of the Association by looking at the development of marine biology both past and future with a focus on marine laboratories and the visionary individuals who established them.

If you have any questions about the Royal Charter, please contact me or refer to Matt Frost (

1. Catterall W. A., Raman I. M., Robinson H. P. C., Sejnowski T. J. and Paulsen O. (2012). The Journal of Neuroscience. October 10, 2012 32 (41):14064 –14073.

2. Vandenberg J. I. & Waxman S. G. (2012). Hodgkin and Huxley and the basis for electrical signalling: a remarkable legacy still going strong. The Journal of Physiology. 590.11 (2012) pp 2569–2570.

3. Schwiening C. J. (2012). A brief historical perspective: Hodgkin and Huxley. The Journal of Physiology. 590.11 (2012) pp 2571–2575.


Matt Frost