Founders of Comparative Endocrinology

Endocrinology is a field of biology that investigates chemical messages, known as hormones, which are secreted into circulation (i.e. the blood) by specialized endocrine organs.  Hormonal messengers typically exert slow, long-lasting effects on their target organ at a distance.  Comparative endocrinology is the study of hormones and their activities in diverse species, spanning vertebrates and invertebrates alike.

The field of comparative endocrinology was founded by two prominent scientists, Dr. Aubrey Gorbman and Dr. Howard Bern, who together co-authored the definitive text in the field, “A textbook of comparative endocrinology” in 1962, which set the platform for research in this biological discipline.

Dr. Aubrey Gorbman was born in Detroit, Michigan, and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wayne State University.  In 1940, he completed his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkely and went on to teach at Barnard College and Columbia University.  In 1963, Dr. Gorbman moved to the University of Washington as a zoology professor and also served as the chairman of the department.  As a zoologist, Dr. Gorbman studied hormones and endocrine systems in animals and humans, who adopted a comparative approach in order to further our understanding of more complex systems by examining model organisms having simpler systems.  Dr. Gorbman founded the prominent journal for the field of comparative endocrinology in the early 1960’s, General and Comparative Endocrinology, where he served as the Editor in Chief for over three decades.  Dr. Gorbman authored or co-authored nearly 250 scientific articles and also was an organizer of international meetings on comparative endocrinology, which continue to this day. Of his numerous accomplishments, Dr. Gorbman was a strong advocate and promoter for the training and recruitment of women in the discipline of biology, which he was acknowledged for in receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring from President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Dr. Howard A. Bern was born in Montreal, Quebec, but moved to Los Angeles in 1933 along with his family during the great depression. Dr. Bern earned his bachelor’s degree in 1941, served four years in the military during the Second World War, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1948. Dr. Bern was a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley where his research studied hormonal effectors of development, including those influencing human fetal development.  In the 1960’s, Dr. Bern’s research focused chiefly on the synthetic hormone, diethylstilbestrol (DES), which at the time was administered to women to prevent premature birth.  His research helped scientists understand the role of DES in causing cancer.  Dr. Bern was the sole founder of the field of endocrine disruptors, which focuses on chemicals that influence hormones and hormonal systems. Dr. Bern went on to carry out research at the Bodega Marine Laboratory (University of California, Davis), where he investigated how movement of teleost fish (including salmon and striped bass) from fresh to marine water influenced hormonal systems in these species, demonstrating evolutionary-important of pituitary hormones and the neuroendocrine system as a critical regulatory component of osmoregulatory adaptations. Dr. Bern authored and co-authored approximately 600 scientific articles and supervised and mentored hundreds of students and fellows. Dr. Bern was greatly committed to the development of his students and was a strong advocate for student diversity, supporting minorities and students from diverse countries as well as students who were incarcerated during the Free Speech Movement.  Professor Bern received a UC Berkeley Teaching Award in 1972 and, upon retiring in 1990, he was awarded the Berkeley Citation, the highest honor bestowed upon a faculty member. In 2005, Dr. Bern was nominated for the National Science Foundation Presidential Mentoring Award.  Dr. Bern was a member of the National Academy of Sciences (among many others) and received numerous honorary doctorates from universities world wide.

In recognition of their pioneering work, Dr. Aubrey Gorbman and Howard Bern have had several awards and lectureships named in their honor from several international scientific societies.  To honor these two extraordinary leaders as founders of the field of comparative endocrinology, the North American Society for Comparative Endocrinology (NASCE) has established a lectureship and award in their names.  The Gorbman-Bern Memorial Lectureship is awarded to an established scientist in recognition of significant and continuous contributions to the area of comparative endocrinology and the associated scientific community.  The Gorbman-Bern New Independent Investigator Award is presented to a young independent investigator in North America in recognition of significant and novel scientific contributions to the area of comparative endocrinology.