ISN Newsletter - July 1999 - section 2

ISN Newsletter - July 1999 - section 2: "


Dietrich Lothar Meyer, neuroethologist, neurophysiologist, neuroanatomist, died on June 8, 1999. There must be more stories about Dietrich than any other person in comparative neurobiology. It was impossible to resist his vibrant energy and mesmerizing personality. Who was this man?

Drawn into neuroscience after medical school and a thesis on the gait of schizophrenics, he studied vestibular mechanisms of compensation with Klaus Peter Schaefer in Goettingen, Germany, and Ted Bullock in La Jolla, California. His curiosity led him to compare species and exploit biodiversity. Ear nystagmus in deer? Tonus function in sense organs? The more exotic, dangerous, and difficult the specimen was to obtain, the better. For Dietrich, science was the thrill of traveling, hunting, having fun. A grant application without a trip to Africa, the Amazon, Australia or Alaska? Too boring!

Dietrich had a keen instinct for the species with an unusual behavior. Geckos in a Brazilian bar show a 180o vestibulo-ocular reflex when tied to a beer coaster and tilted 360 degrees consternating other patrons. Flatfish could be manipulated to remain upright, fish with a ventral substrate response, upside down catfish, one eyed or four eyed fish -- whatever could tell us about underlying principles. Dietrich moved from the vestibular to the visual system, determining sources of CNS input to the eye, and explored long forgotten chemosensory systems (what do you know about the nervus terminalis?), always combining evolutionary, behavioral, physiological and anatomical perspectives.

Appointed full professor and head of the department of neuroanatomy in Goettingen at the age of 37, his many students included Werner Graf, Eberhard Fiebig, Christopher von Bartheld, Mario Wullimann, Michael Hofmann, Cordula Malz, Andreas Schober, Carmen Pinuela, and Arun Jadhao. Dietrich collaborated with bigwigs in comparative neurobiology, Ted Bullock, Walter Heiligenberg, Henning Scheich, Sven Ebbesson, Glenn Northcutt, Jack Pettigrew. Detailed scholarly work and formal presentations were not his style. He preferred eye to eye discussions in the bar next door and brief publications then off to the next expedition. There was no lack of ideas, only time ran out on this man whose life was burning like a candle lit at both ends. Dietrich was 51 years old.

Chris von Bartheld