Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941)--an early ecological developmental biologist

Dev Biol. 2006 Aug 1;296(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.04.445. Epub 2006 Apr 22.


Ecological developmental biology (Eco-Devo) involves the study of development in its natural environmental context as opposed to the laboratory setting. Ernest E. Just was an early 20th century African-American embryologist who devoted his career to studying the early development of marine invertebrates in the United States and abroad. Through detailed study of the fertilization process, he came to see the cell cortex as playing a central role in development, inheritance, and evolution. This paper, after presenting some of Just's scientific and philosophical contributions, argues that Just was an Eco-Devo biologist. Three lines of evidence are given. First, Just believed that intimate knowledge of the natural history of the marine animal under study--hence, the natural setting in which fertilization occurs--was essential. Second, he stressed the importance of the egg's "normality"--how well its condition in the laboratory corresponds to the natural, fertilizable state. Finally, Just was an organicist, believing that organisms are holistic systems with emergent properties that arise from their organization and complexity. Although other scientists may stand out more clearly as founding architects of Eco-Devo, E. E. Just, with his unwavering insistence on the normality and holistic integrity of the egg cell, was one of its purest adherents.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Developmental Biology / history*
  • Ecology / history*
  • Embryology / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Ernest Everett Just