BAR HARBOR — Author David Evans’ new book, “Marine Physiology Down East,” provides an important window into the commitment and collegiality of the many scientists who, for over a century, wrote grants and sought other funding to ensure the long-term viability of the MDI Biological Laboratory (MDIBL). Although the lab was founded in 1898, it was located in South Harpswell and only moved to Salisbury Cove on Mount Desert Island in 1921 at the invitation of George B. Dorr, one of the founders of Acadia National Park.
While Evans provided a cursory summary of the lab’s first 23 years, he divided the years from 1924 to 2009 into five generations of scientists. There is obviously some overlap, but the concept of generations allowed him to show how clusters of scientists all working together elucidated the physiology of a number of marine organisms and fostered research on the kidney, liver, heart, lung and eye of marine species.
Understanding how these organs function in marine models helps scientists understand what happens when these organisms malfunction or become diseased in humans.
In the preface, Evans noted that the impetus for the book came in 2010. Leon Goldstein, who had first attracted Evans to MDIBL, was departing the lab after 52 summers of conducting research on the excretion of nitrogen by marine fishes. That spring, in a talk at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society, Evans reviewed the research of MDIBL scientists beginning in the late 1920s on osmoregulation, a process by which the water content of fish and mammals is controlled by salt transport.
“I realized that summer  that connections to the past of the laboratory were fading fast and should, therefore, be documented for previous, current, and future scientists and friends of MDIBL,” wrote Evans.
And while the book reviews over 75 years of specialized research, Evans’ narrative style and placing of footnotes at the bottom of each page make the 1,094-page book highly readable even for nonscientists. Another important feature of the history is that Evans interspersed personal reminiscences of scientists and family members along with details of their research. For these, he drew on the minutes of the various meetings of the corporation and reports at the annual meetings on finances, recruitment, physical facilities, scientific and administrative highlights and, particularly in later years, fundraising and development. Evans mined two other sources for this history: “The MDIBL Bulletin,” a collection of scientific reports written by investigators; and Frank Epstein’s “A Laboratory by the Sea: The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory 1898-1998.” The latter, published on the lab’s 100th birthday, contained a brief history by Epstein of the lab’s first 100 years and numerous essays by lab scientists highlighting personal reminiscences about the lab and those who made it possible.
“David Evan’s book is a rare account in many ways,” said David Dawson, a longtime summer investigator at MDIBL. “It not only traces the history of men and women and ideas, but also, by means of quotes from corporation minutes and other sources, provides glimpses behind the curtain into the evolution of a singular institution and the people who populated it.” Dawson, like Evans, is a former director.
“The book also highlights the role of the MDI Bio Lab as a point of intersection and scientific interaction for biologists and physician scientists from around the world, a role that continues to this day as the lab evolves into new and productive areas of investigation that exploit model organisms in new ways,” added Dawson.
In 2012, friends and colleagues of Evans established the David H. Evans Visiting Faculty Fellowship in the Physiology of Marine Organisms in recognition not only of his 35-year tenure at the MDI Biological Laboratory, including nine years as director and seven years as director of MDIBL’s Center for Membrane Toxicity Studies, but also of his many contributions to science and his continued support of the laboratory. One of the hallmarks of Evans’ career both at the MDIBL and the University of Florida, where he is an emeritus professor of biology, has been his mentoring of young scientists.