100th birthday celebrations for the Maculatus guppy!


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Maculatus guppy, blond. Image by Ronan Boutot.

A ceremony took place in Copenhagen last month to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the birth of the oldest aquarium guppy strain documented — and this strain is still alive today!


The event was held in the headquarters of Carlsberg in the actual laboratory where the original work took place. The room, furniture and equipment have been preserved whilst the rest of the building and complex have been updated and currently contain the very best modern equipment and facilities for ongoing studies of yeast and barley.

The original facilities were world leading at the turn of the 19th century resulting in many new scientific discoveries such as the pH scale system that we all use today. The same Carlsberg laboratory was also where the ‘Endlers guppy' was named. Professor Winge studied guppies and wrote many different papers, learning and discovering the basis of modern guppy genetics in his "18 genes paper."

 Maculatus guppy, grey. Image by Ronan Boutot. Maculatus guppy, grey. Image by Ronan Boutot.

In the early 1900s Professor Schmidt worked at Carlsberg and was studying genetics in yeast and also barley for brewing beer. His laboratory had some guppies that he was studying and experimenting with. The guppy was an ideal tool for this work as they are easy to keep and reproduce fairly quickly. These guppies were the so called ‘old race’ that we know as ‘iridescent’. Their colour includes orangey red spots. We think that he probably kept these in his lab for 2–3 years, not for the colouration, but for the study of bones and fins... Unfortunately we don't know the origin of this Iridescent strain.

Then, on July 22, 1916, Professor Schmidt went to an exhibition and was interested in a single guppy that showed a very bright red spot in comparison to what he already had. He bought the fish for the Carlsberg laboratory, and on that day introduced it to one of the female guppies that he already had (this specimen was known as 'Nr 74'!) Their offspring were the start of the 'Maculatus' strain.

Studies were made and a paper published in 1919 describing the Maculatus. Schmidt wrote his scientific paper ‘Racial studies in fish II Experimental investigations with Lebistes reticulatus’, with all the information, numbers of babies per drop, back cross on the father, line breeding, etc. But from there the Maculatus strain is born.

A paper was also published describing the Iridescent race which had been kept longer but it was published after the Maculatus paper. Thus, although the Maculatus was not the oldest guppy, it was the first description published — the oldest documented guppy (excepting the original description 50 years earlier).

Since then all other guppy publications used this first paper as a base line for comparison of their own guppy studies and so it is very well known and used.

The celebration and meeting was 100 years to the day, in the exact same room where the F0 fish were put together that began the Maculatus. Indeed we also had a Maculatus male and female of the Iridescent form and introduced them together as part of the ceremony! (They were not direct descendants of the original stock which have been lost).

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Back in 1916, it was the middle of World War One. The battle of the Somme began on July 1 in France, and killed or injured one million young European guys (Germans, English and French.) So exactly one century later, it was a proud occasion to gather together people from these same countries as well as Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, for our celebration.

Ronan Boutot presented a speech to those who had gathered and Fred N Poser gave a short presentation about genetics and the new description of P. kempkesi. This was followed by a tour of the facility including the library that holds all the scientific papers from the laboratories.

In conclusion, Ronan Boutot suggested a little parallel to help us to imagine how long a one century old guppy line is living. "If we consider that guppies make three generations a year when humans make three generations a century, 100 years for the guppy is the same as 100 centuries for humans. 100 centuries is equal to 10 000 years, so from now 2016, it takes us back to 8000 BC — the time when humans just started to domesticate sheep and pigs and start to make ceramics.  300 generations separate us from our ancestors at this time as 300 generations separate this living Maculatus from his great, great, great (300 times) great grandfather introduced to ’No74’ by Pr Schmidt on July 22, one century ago to the day!"