This post was originally written in Spanish by Jesús Ávila, researcher, biochemist and molecular biologist, and Honorary Member of SEBBM, and first published on the SEBBM’s website.
Current neuroscience is based on the pioneering discoveries of our Nobel laureate, Santiago Ramón y Cajal. His studies of anatomy and his Neuron Theory laid the foundations of knowledge in that discipline. The work of Ramón y Cajal was carried out in Spain, at the Universities of Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid, where he planted his seed. In addition, in Madrid he created the Junta de Ampliación de Estudios, which was the germ of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, or CSIC (the Spanish National Research Council).
On the other hand, another of our Nobel laureates, Severo Ochoa, working in Germany, England and, above all, in the USA, was one of the fathers of Molecular Biology, for his work on the genetic code and processes related to the transcription of DNA to RNA, and the translation of information from RNA to proteins. Despite being based in the USA, from the 1960s he began to make several trips back to Spain, becoming interested in the biochemistry work (and in the beginnings of molecular biology) that was carried out in our country.
In 1953 the Centre for Biological Research (CIB) was created, where biochemists, microbiologists and neuroscientists worked – the latter at the Cajal Institute. Later, in 1961, at the initiative of researchers (biochemists) of the CIB, the 1st Meeting of Biochemists was held in Santander, chaired by Severo Ochoa, with Alberto Sols acting as vice-president of the meeting. Two years later, in 1963, biochemists working in Spain, supported by Severo Ochoa, founded in Santiago de Compostela the Spanish Society of Biochemistry (SEB). Thanks to the contacts of the members of the newly created SEB with foreign biochemists, the SEB became part of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS), organizing in 1969 the FEBS Congress. In addition, Spain joined EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) and – thanks to cultural exchanges and to the use of military bases – received help from the USA for the development of biochemistry in Spain. In this sense, our country left its autarky and integrated into the most developed scientific world.
Much later, in 1979, the Spanish Society of Neurosciences (SENC) was created, whose work – with regards to research into the nervous system – adequately complemented the work carried out by SEB.
Widening and deepening
From the 1990s and thanks to the work of presidents of the SEB such as C. Gancedo and J. Guinovart, SEB became – in 1992 – the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM). In general, the analysis in physics, chemistry or biology has been going down towards the molecular (and atomic) level and, in general, biochemistry has been transforming into molecular biology. This transformation also reached the field of neuroscience, where it sought to complement its analysis at the level of anatomy (Cajal) with the molecular biology of the nervous system, to have a more complete knowledge at the level of the mechanisms of neuronal processes.
Interestingly, looking at the list of SEB-SEBBM’s Presidents throughout its history (Table 1), it can be seen that some of them worked in neuroscience, a field that several Universities and CSIC Centres in Spain focus on, such as the Cajal Institute, the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante, or the future Cajal International Neuroscience Centre (CINC) – which specifically work in this field – or at other multidisciplinary CSIC Centres, such as the CBMSO, CNB, IIB... Additionally, other basic research centers, such as IBERBASQUE in Vizcaya, foundations such as ACE or the Pascual Maragall Foundation in Barcelona, or the IBIS in Seville, together with the work carried out in hospitals, mainly but not exclusively in Madrid and Barcelona, have improved the knowledge of neuroscience in Spain and, in many cases, the researchers involved are members of SEBBM.
From 1963, with Alberto Sols, to 2023 with Isabel Varela and, more recently, Antonio Ferrer, SEBBM has celebrated 60 years, in which it has also collaborated in the development of neuroscience, something that Cajal would have been proud of. It should be noted that the anniversary of SEBBM overlaps with the acclaimed "Cajal Year" and with the 30th anniversary of the death of Severo Ochoa.
We hope that at a future SEBBM anniversary we can again celebrate the memory of another young illustrious molecular biologist, also member of our Society, who by then would have made a very relevant discovery at an international level too, and who would also have received a high recognition like that of Cajal and Ochoa.