Historical notes of IBANGS


Wim E. Crusio, Member-at-large, Founding Executive Committee

The International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society (IBANGS) was founded in 1996 as the European Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society. In what follows, I would like to give a brief personal account of the events that led to the founding of EBANGS and its subsequent transformation into IBANGS.
In 1994, European Neuroscience was in a flux. The annual Europe-wide neuroscience meetings organized by the European Neuroscience Association, ENA (often c-organized by the European Brain and Behaviour Society, EBBS), were in a crisis: attendance was falling ever lower, to about 1000 participants, whereas simultaneously, several thousands of European neuroscientists were participating in the annual meetings of the US-based Society for Neuroscience. Of course, the latter society is not an international society and a need was perceived for a truly European-wide forum for the booming field of the neurosciences. Part of the problem was that most European national neuroscience societies were each holding an annual meeting (some of them attracting more participants than the ENA meetings), competing among each other and with the ENA/EBBS meetings. The solution being talked about in ENA circles was quite radical. ENA being perceived by many as an "in-crowd", it was proposed to dissolve the association completely and establish instead a federation of all European neuroscience societies, both national and specialty ones. This federation would meet biannually and in the years of the biannual meetings (the even years) its member societies would not hold their own meetings. The member societies would hold their own national/specialty meetings during the odd years when the federation would not meet.

Hans-Peter Lipp (Zurich, Switzerland) during a visit to me in Paris in December 1994, showed some concern that none of the societies involved in this pan-European initiative had any particular interest in behavioral and neural genetics. Clearly, there was a need for a new society that could participate in the new federation and represent the interests of behavioral neurogeneticists. Of course, as always there were too many other things to do and the idea lingered in the back of our minds, without any more action being undertaken than occasional discussions with colleagues, all agreeing that something should be done. Then, in the summer of 1996, ENA started convening all European societies for a meeting in Strasbourg, to be held during what would turn out to be the last annual ENA/EBBS meeting. It was clear something had to be done, or else behavioral neurogenetics would miss the boat. Unfortunately, at the time Hans-Peter Lipp was in Russia for a two-month stay, and could not be reached. Boldly, I therefore designed a letterhead and contacted ENA, informing them of the recent foundation of the European Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society, EBANGS, which was eager to join the federation initiative. On the letterhead I mentioned as members of the preliminary executive committee of EBANGS, Hans-Peter Lipp, President, and myself, member-at-large. I carefully avoided mentioning that the new founded society had only two members, one of them at that moment being blissfully unaware of the fact... Following this letter, EBANGS was invited to attend the Strasbourg meeting.

Of course, we realized that we could not leave things at this point, so as soon as Hans-Peter came back from Russia, we started putting together a real executive committee. Enrico Alleva (Rome, Italy) agreed to become Secretary, while Alberto Fernandez-Teruel (Barcelona, Spain), Seth Grant (Edinburgh, UK), Gert Pflugfelder (Wurzburg, Germany), and Ortrud Steinlein (Bonn, Germany) agreed to become members-at-large of this new society. As we did not plan on asking for contributions from the members, no treasurer was named. So within weeks of being founded, membership in the fledgling society more than tripled, from 2 to 7.... By the time of the Strasbourg meeting we still had only a handful of members, but soon after that membership started to grow rapidly. At first, potential members were approached by sending them membership application forms, but soon Hans-Peter Lipp established a web-site on which interested persons could apply for membership online. By now, this web-site registers about 100 "hits" per week.

Growth was so rapid, that it was soon decided that perhaps a meeting would be in order. As I was organizing in Orlans, France, in the late summer of 1997 the Third French-American Summer School on Behavioral Neurogenetics, followed by a French-American Symposium on the same topic, I offered to organize an EBANGS meeting as well, following directly and partly overlapping with the French-American Symposium. It may seem a bit bold to organize three meetings simultaneously, but one should realize that this is not that much more work than organizing "only" one meeting: venue, transportation, hotels, catering, etc. could all be organized simultaneously. The only trick was to keep the accounts separate....

So from 29 September-1 October, 1997, about 50 people attended the First Annual Meeting of EBANGS, which turned out to be a huge succes. The session on ethical issues, organized jointly with the French-American Symposium, even figured in a French televised newscast. Among the participants was a surprisingly large proportion of North-American researchers, that asked whether they, too, could join this society. In fact, many behavioral neurogeneticists in the US were looking for a home, as well. Of course, the Behavior Genetics Association, founded in 1970, was flourishing, holding well-attended annual meetings in the US and Europe. Nevertheless, many researchers, especially those coming from the neurosciences that had only recently started to get involved in neurogenetic research, did not feel attracted by the BGA, because of a perceived lack of interest in neurobiology. In consequence, it was decided at the very first business meeting of EBANGS, to change the name and replace "European" with "International". The spelling "Behavioural" was maintained as a reference to our European roots.

On 1 July, 1998, the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, FENS, was founded in Berlin, Germany, with IBANGS as a founding member. FENS has become a great success since and IBANGS has contributed to this through participation in the FENS Council and Program Committee and by organizing our Annual Meeting as a satellite of FENS.

From 1999 on, IBANGS has organized Annual Meetings. It was decided to do this on an alternating basis: in the odd years in the US, as a satellite of the SFN meetings there, and in the even years in Europe, as a satellite of the Forum of European Neuroscience Meetings organized by FENS. Growth in membership has been rapid and attendance at the annual meetings increased greatly compared to that first meeting in Orleans in 1997. We are currently looking forward to the Fourth Annual Meeting, which will be held in San Diego, November 8-10, 2001, where IBANGS will come of age with a rich and diverse program and the festive presentation of its own scholarly journal, Genes, Brain and Behavior.

The rest is history!

June 18, 2001

Wim E. Crusio
Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute
Dept. of Psychiatry,
University of Massachusetts Medical School
303 Belmont Street
Worcester, MA 01604