Alfred Giard

Born 1846
Died 1908

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French biologist and zoologist, born August 8, 1846, Valenciennes; died August 8, 1908, Orsay, Essonne.

Biography of Alfred Giard

Alfred Giard was an extraordinarily gifted child. Influenced by his father, he took an early interest in nature. By the age of fifteen he had aquired an extensive knowledge of insects and plants, and it is said that at the early age of six he classified the insects of the region if Valencienne

Following secondary studies at the lycée in his native town of Valenciennes, he entered the École Normale supérieure in 1867 to study the natural sciences. From 1869 to 1872 he was named préparateur de zoologie at he laboratory of H. de Lacaze-Duthiers at the faculty of sciences in Paris. In 1872 he defended his doctoral thesis in natural sciences, "Recherches sur les ascidies composées ou synascidies", on the compound ascidians. He was professeur suppléant of natural history at the Faculté des Sciences of Lille (1873-1882), while also being affiliated with the Institut industriel agronomique et commercial du Nord de la France. He became a lecturer at the École Normale Supérieure in 1887.

In 1874, with his own funds, he founded the biological station at Wimereux, Boulogne, in order to introduce his students to marine and terrestrial flora and fauna. He was a great laboratory director, and he rapidly formed a brilliant school of zoology in Lille. He was succeeded as head of this station by Maurice Caullery (1868-1958) in 1909.

In 1888 the city council of Paris, at the initiative of L. Donnat, created a course on "the evolution of living organisms" at the Sorbonne. Thus Giard became professor at the Faculté des Sciences of Paris, holding the chair of evolution of living organisms from 1888 until his death.

In 1892, Giard married Mademosiselle Annie Bond-Cook, with whom he had three children. They all died at an early age.

Giard was a complete naturalist who was endowed with a remarkable memory and possessed prodigious factual knowledge. Moreover, he had the ability to rank facts and coordinate them to bring out the ideas of general biology. Never an advocate of technique - be it injections or histological sections or preparations - Giard considered the examination of living creatures in their environment to be superior to that of materials that were preserved or cut in pieces. One ought always to begin with examinations. He discovered the Orhonectida (parasites of the Ophiurida) in 1877, and a member of the Turbellaria (Fecampia), a parasite of the higher crustaceans; with J. Bonnier he carried out research on the crustaceans, notably on the Epicaridea (parasitic isopods) and on the Bopyridae.

Giard became a convinced follower of transformation, a doctrine opposed by his contemporaries, and his courses were filled with new ideas already widespread abroad. In accepting transformism as a fact and interpreting nature accordingly, Giard was under the influence of Ernst Haeckel. He thought that Lamarckism and Darwinism complemented each other. This was before the German biologist and genetician August Friedrich Leopold Weismann (1834-1914) had proven both Lamarck (Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck, 1744-1829) and Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) wrong in believing that acquired traits are inheritable. They are not.

Giard was the author of more than 600 scientific treatises in the field of biology and zoology. He was particularly concerned by the mutual relationship between host an parasite and introduced the term parasitic castration in animals and plants to denominate changes of sexual characteristica in the host due to the parasite, even when it is not directly involved in thee sexual glands of the host. With his student and collaborator, Jules Bonnier, he made many contributions to the study of parasitic attacks on marine animals, particularly crustacea. In 1888 the Paris city council established a lectureship in the doctrines of evolutions for him at the Sorbonne; this later became a chair. Through his students and his work he exercised a great influence on the development of biological sciences in France.

From 1882 to 1885 he sat in the Chamber of Deputies as the member from Valenciennes; but, failing to win reelection in 1885, he gave up politics. He was elected to the Académie des Sciences in 1900. He was president of the Société de biologie, Paris, 1904-1908. In 1906 he participated with Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran (1845-1922) and E.-L. Bouvier in the sub-commission of the l'Association scientifique internationale d'agronomie coloniale chargée d'établir les instructions médicales et zoologiques, destinées à la mission de la maladie du sommeil au Congo français, dirigée par Gustave Martin (1872-1936) In 1908 he was elected member of the conseil de la Société de pathologie exotique.

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