Career and Research Highlights

The thrust of my research has been to investigate various aspects of evolutionary adaptations of organisms existing, or surviving, in extreme environments or under challenging conditions (e.g. the deep-sea, caves, deserts, Arctic and Antarctic regions, etc.). I try to relate my findings to the needs of the society and examine my research problems in great depth, using a variety of modern analytical techniques. However, because of my broad background in whole animal as well as cellular research, I have also been able to conduct multipronged and multidisciplinary approaches. I have shown repeatedly that I can make significant and important contributions to ongoing research in any part of the world and that my ideas and advice concerning the application of the results and the evolutionary aspects of ecophysiological work have been both welcome and useful. Finance for basic (=fundamental) research of mine came from:

  • the University Grants Committee (N.Zld.)
  • National Science Foundation (U.S.A.)
  • National Geographic Society of America (U.S.A.)
  • Alexander v. Humboldt Foundation (Germany)
  • Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft DFG(Germany)
  • Society for the Promotion of Science (Japan)
  • and several others, amongst them the Finnish Academy of Sciences, the Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse, Nowotka Metallbau KG, etc.

Applied research of mine has received major funding from, to name but a few:

  • the Australian Government
  • the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries in New Zealand
  • the New Zealand 'Tourist Hotel Corporation'
  • the Lottery Board of New Zealand
  • the Trafalgar Development Bank, etc.
  • Deutsches Zentrum f. Luft & Raumfahrt(Germany)

In 1967, still a university student majoring in Marine Sciences, I was selected to participate in the joint South African/German South Atlantic Ocean Research Project, which lasted a little over 4 months. I discovered a new species of deep-sea fish (described by me as Cataetyx memorabilis : Meyer-Rochow 1970, Abh. Verh. naturwiss. Ver. NF14, 37-53), and examined functional and anatomical aspects of its larvae. The first ever light and electron microscopical results on larval and adult sense organs of the new fish were published by me a little later (Meyer-Rochow 1972, Z. Morph. Tiere 72, 331-340; Meyer-Rochow 1972, Mar. Biol. 12, 272-276). Additional marine research of mine was published in Vie et Milieu (1972, 23A, 11-19), J. de Microsc. (1972, 13, 169-172) and Zool. Anzeiger (1974, 192, 240-251).

Following my Diploma in Biology (=M.Sc.) at the University of Hamburg with a thesis on the life history of the newly discovered fish Cataetyx memorabilis and the anatomy and behaviour of its larvae, I worked for the NDR (North German Radio) in the television educational section, produced two science films, and was co-editor of a 10-part series on the way of life of the Netsilik Eskimos. In 1972 I published a 5-part review article in the German Medical journal Selecta (14, 864-866, 957-960, 1053-1056,1162-1166, 1240-1244) on the traditional life of the Inuit (=Eskimo). For a short while prior to going to Australia my Kiel University Ph.D-supervisors (Ph.D.-topic: 'Ecological adaptations of intertidal spiders and insects') had been the German Prof. B. Heydemann (later Minister of Environment: Government of Slesvig Holstein) and Prof. G. Hempel (instrumental in the German Polar Research Programme).

For my Ph.D.-dissertation (I held a Ph.D.-scholarship from the Australian National University in Canberra), I worked under the guidance of Professor G.A. Horridge F.R.S. on eyes of nocturnal insects and became the first person to successfully make intracellular electrophysiological recordings from larval eyes (=stemmata) of insects (Meyer-Rochow 1974, J. Insect Physiol. 20, 1565-1591). On the basis of my ecosensory and behavioural physiological work I was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship in Marine Sciences, of which at that time, worldwide, only two were handed out annually to the best of my knowledge.

In 1975 I turned my attention to crustaceans of the deep-sea and published several pioneering papers (Meyer-Rochow, Nature 1975, 254, 522-524; Cell & Tissue Res. 1975, 162, 439-457; Meyer-Rochow & Penrose 1975 J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 23, 191-210; Meyer-Rochow & Walsh 1977, Cell & Tissue Res. 184, 87-103 and 195, 59-80; Meyer-Rochow 1978, Cell & Tissue Res. 186, 337-350).

With my interests in extreme environments, it is not surprising that I accepted the opportunities (when they arose) to visit tribal people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and nomads of the Australian desert and to establish myself in the field of Ethnozoology with several papers (Meyer-Rochow 1973, Amer. J. Clin. Nutr. 26, 673-677; Meyer-Rochow 1975, Search 6, 261-262; Meyer-Rochow 1975, J. Roy. Soc. W. Austr. 58, 15-30; Meyer-Rochow 1977, Food & Nutr. 33, 151-153; Meyer-Rochow 1979, Ethnomed. 4, 387-400).

After my participation, - by invitation - , in the Scripps Institution of Oceanology research trip to the Moluccan Islands in 1975 (in which the focus lay on bioluminescence in the sea and SCUBA-diving), I routinely began to employ electron microscopy in my studies of sensory and other adaptations to extreme environments. I pioneered electron microscopy in Antarctica and, commencing in 1977, surveyed a wide range of habitats in Antarctica, including the South Pole, the Dry Valleys, and the summit of Mt.Erebus for biological research projects. In 1978 I was the New Zealand participant in the National Science Foundation of the U.S. funded 'Ross Ice Shelf Project'. My first Antarctic research results were published in international journals of the highest reputation (e.g. Meyer-Rochow & Tiang 1979, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B206, 353-368 and 1982, Cell Tissue Res. 221, 625-632; Meyer-Rochow 1981, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 212, 93-111 and 1982 Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B215, 433-450; Meyer-Rochow & Pyle 1980, Comp. Biochem. Physiol. 65, 395-399).

An ecosensory study of taste receptors in a variety of fish species (including 3 from Antarctica) became my most requested publication (Meyer-Rochow 1981, Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 71, 413-426). On the other hand, a paper I regard as one of the highlights of my exploratory career (Mikrokosmos 1979, 67, 34-40) received very little attention, probably because it was written in German and appeared in a local science magazine. In that paper I described the discovery of a new habitat on earth: confined to bubbles in Antarctic lake ice and encapsulated from the rest of the world for many years, I found a veritable microcosm of microscopic plants and animals.

I was invited by the Chinese Academy of Sciences to tour China in 1979 and explain Antarctic research with a view of assisting the Chinese to set up their own base (which they did a few years later). I also spent 3 months of my sabbatical at the University of Oulu, Department of Physiology, to study spectral sensitivity in insects of high latitude (Meyer-Rochow 1980, J. Comp. Physiol. 139, 261-266).

During the winter, when expeditions to Antarctica or the Arctic were not possible, I began to concentrate on the cave ecosystem and made the sensational discovery that truly troglobitic species need not necessarily be blind or exhibit eye regression (Meyer-Rochow & Waldvogel 1980, J. Insect Physiol. 25, 601-613; Meyer-Rochow & Liddle 1987, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B233, 293-319). The importance of bioluminescence in some extreme environments (Meyer-Rochow & Moore 1988, Int. Rev. Ges. Hydrobiol. 75, 21-43) , including the Antarctic (Meyer-Rochow 1986, N.Zld. Antarctic Rec. 7, 1-8) , was also demonstrated.

In view of the increasing ultraviolet radiation in some regions of the earth, in particular the polar regions, I carried out a considerable amount of research into the role of UV-radiation in animals, generally, and its damaging effect on photoreceptor membranes in particular (Eguchi & Meyer-Rochow 1983, Annot. Zool. Jap. 56, 10-18 and Cell Tiss. Res. 231, 519-526; Meyer-Rochow & Eguchi 1983, Biol. Cell. 48, 185-190; Meyer-Rochow & Tiang 1984, Zoologica 45, 1-85: Meyer-Rochow & Eguchi 1985, J. Neurocytol. 13, 935-959). A more comprehensive view was obtained when not only ultraviolet and bright white light were considered, but the effect of temperature as well. Such research was begun in the Arctic (=Spitsbergen) by Meyer-Rochow (Biomed. J. 1985, 6, 353-367) and followed up in collaboration with Dr. M.Lindström during two sabbatical research stays at the Tvärminne Marine Biological Station and published in (Biochem. Biophys. Res. Comm. 1987, 147, 747-752; Zool. Sci. 1988, 5, 743-757; Zool. Sci. 1991, 8, 653-663). Recent reviews by Meyer-Rochow (Crustaceana 1994, 67, 97-111; Zool. Sci. 2001, 18, 1175-1197) summarize the current state of knowledge in this field of inquiry with regard to crustaceans and insects, while another review by Meyer-Rochow (Int. J. Circumpolar Health 2000, 59, 38-51) deals with vertebrate and in particular the human eye.

Studies on light and uv-induced damage naturally led to an interest in abnormalities, regeneration, and dermal structure and ultrastructure. The collaboration with others resulted in a number of important papers (Meyer-Rochow & Koebke 1986, Zool. Anzeiger 217, 1-13; Obika & Meyer-Rochow 1986, Cell Tissue Res. 244, 339-343 and Pigment Cell Res. 1989, 3, 33-37; Asashima, Oinuma & Meyer-Rochow 1987, Zool. Sci. 4, 411-425; Meyer-Rochow & Asashima 1988, Zool. Anzeiger 221, 70-80; Asashima & Meyer-Rochow 1988, Z. mikr.-anat. Forsch. 102, 756-760; Alibardi & Meyer-Rochow 1990, J. Hirnforschg. 31, 613-621 and Biocell 18, 105-119; Meyer-Rochow 1990, N. Zld. Antarct. Rec. 10, 28-31).

Investigations dealing with developmental aspects of specific environmental adaptations were carried out on photoreceptors and visual functions in insects (Meyer-Rochow & Gokan 1988, J. Insect Physiol. 34, 983-995; Meyer-Rochow & Reid 1994, Appl. Entomol. Zool. 29, 439-442; Stringer & Meyer-Rochow 1994, Mem. Biospeol. 21, 133-139), marine crustaceans (Meyer-Rochow et al. 1990, Exp. Biol. 48, 329-340; Ziedins & Meyer-Rochow 1990, Exp. Biol. 48, 319-328; Meyer-Rochow & Meha 1994, J. Roy. Soc. N. Zld. 24, 423-428), and vertebrates like fishes and amphibia (Meyer-Rochow & Pehlemann 1990, J. Roy. Soc. N. Zld. 20, 349-366; Meyer-Rochow & Stewart 1992, Micr. Electr. Biol. Cell. 16, 69-86 and Microscopy Res. Techn. 1996, 33, 431-443).

An investigation of biorhythms of photopigments (first identified in a marine amphipod by Meyer-Rochow & Suzuki 1986, Comp. Biochem Physiol. 83B, 75-79) in the absence of diurnal light fluctuations in the Antarctic amphipod Orchomene plebs , was published by Hariyama, Meyer-Rochow, and Terakita (1993: J. Comp. Physiol. A173, 615-619). Tidal periodicity in the Antarctic ocean was advanced as the most likely 'Zeitgeber'. A newly discovered brain photoreceptor in the Antarctic Glyptonotus antarcticus (Martin, Jaros, Chaigneau & Meyer-Rochow 1995, J. Crust. Biol. 15, 81-90) could be analogous in function to the pineal eye. The list of important discoveries and research publications (like greater UV-reflection in Pieris napi females of high latitude when compared with individuals from further south: (Meyer-Rochow & Järvilehto 1997, Naturwissenschaften) continues to grow and some major reviews on lamprey vision (Meyer-Rochow & Stewart 1996 Microsc. Res. Tech. 35, 431-443) and arthropod eyes have recently been added (Meyer-Rochow 1999 and Meyer-Rochow & Nilsson 1999 in Atlas of Arthropod Sensory Receptors, eds. Eguchi E, Tominaga Y, Springer Verlag, pp. 97-125 and 125 142; Meyer-Rochow 2001 Zool Sci 18, 1175-1197).

In the last five years or so, photoreceptor research on a variety of invertebrate eyes (crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and mites: see list of recent publications) has continued to dominate Meyer-Rochow's research output and a retinal organization that combines adaptations to see in water as well as in air has been discovered in aquatic pulmonates by Meyer-Rochow and his research assistants Dr M Bobkova and Dr J Gal. But results based on Antarctic material also remained to be important. In fact, interest in muscle ultrastructure was revived through collaboration with Dr. Mar Royuela (University of Alcala) and resulted in several publications on muscle ultrastructure and biochemistry of Antarctic invertebrates, e.g., ostracods, mites, starfish. Furthermore, the exciting discovery was made that chromatophores of two species of Antarctic fish contained the typical smooth muscle proteins Calponin and Caldesmon (Meyer-Rochow et al. 2001, Protoplasma 218, 24-30; Meyer-Rochow and Royuela, 2002, Microsc., Res., Tech.). Meyer-Rochow's interests in the social sciences were confirmed through some recent publications related to aspects of human behaviour (Meyer-Rochow: Int. J. Circumpolar Health 1999, 58, 57-62 and Meyer-Rochow et al.: J. Finnish Anthropol. Soc. 2000, 25, 29-40) and Meyer-Rochow's inclusion in a research team that focuses on studies of depression and suicides (Timonen M, Jokelainen J, Hakko H, Meyer-Rochow VB, Rasanen P: Molecular Psychiatry 2003, Atopy and Depression - Results from the Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort Study".

The aim of this brief 'resume' of Meyer-Rochow's publications in the fields of marine science, extreme environments, functional anatomy and ultrastructure was to show the broad range of research that Meyer-Rochow's work covers and the fact that his major publications are published in some of the best international journals around.

A personal remark at the end may not be too inappropriate. I want to refer to an event that will always remain memorable to me: at the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Jamaica in March 1994, I had the honour of showing Her Majesty The Queen our research and to explain to her what 'Biology of Extreme Environments' means and stands for. I am confident that having been able to explain that (and more) to The Queen , I can do the same to anyone anytime anywhere in the world, provided the person is as keen as the Queen to listen and to learn.

It is my conviction that the scientist's duty and responsibility extend beyond doing mere research and that education of the public is also a very important part of the life of a scientist. Towards that end I have on several occasions been a consultant to German, Japanese, New Zealand (and once BBC) television companies. Since 1988 I started publishing a bi-weekly science column in the leading New Zealand newspaper 'The New Zealand Herald'. This column also ran on a weekly basis in the Caribbean newspaper with the widest circulation (the Jamaican 'Gleaner'), appeared at irregular intervals in the Indian 'Sentinel' and was printed, for almost 4 years, in Finnish in the 'Kaleva'. From December 2001 for several years Meyer-Rochow's science column, the bi-weekly 'Bio-Happen', formed a regular feature in the Bremer Nachrichten newspaper.


I have taught courses in the Biological Sciences at all levels and supervised research work of 26 postgraduate students. Courses I coordinated and were fully responsible for included (a) "Entomology", (b) "Introduction to Marine Sciences" , (c) 2nd & 3rd yr. "Animal Senses & Behaviour", (d) 3rd. yr. "Research exercises in Animal Biology". I had teaching blocks in other courses on 'circulation and respiration', 'comparative physiology, neurobiology and coordination', 'insects and spiders', 'crustacea', 'fishes and amphibia', 'zoogeography', 'locomotion, orientation and animal behaviour (including human)', and 'extreme habitats'. In addition, I regularly gave invited lectures (or taught whole blocks) in courses run by the Psychology Department ('farm animal management') and the Department of Earth Sciences ('coastal management'). In Finland at Oulu University I have been teaching 'Sensory Physiology and Behaviour' in the Faculties of Medicine and Natural Sciences and an "Introduction to Marine Science" at the Biology Department. At the IUB I have been responsible for General Biology I and II and the course �Ecology and Evolution'.

Extramurally, I have regularly been involved in courses offered by the 'University Extension' and 'Continuing Education' departments and have frequently addressed high school pupils, advised them on the topic of "Biology as a Career", and gave lectures or slide-shows. The latter were also much in demand for Rotary- and Lions Clubs, Embassies, professional organizations, societies, etc.