Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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von Baer was a biologist who helped found the discipline of embryology and developmental biology. Much of his early work was on chick embryology. In 1827 he published the first description of the mammalian egg cell. This was based on his investigations of the structure of the ovum in the dog. He found it to be a small yellow spot floating in follicular fluid. von Baer developed the germ-layer theory which holds that four layers of cells are formed in vertebrate eggs and that each layer always gives rise to certain tissues in the adult organism. Based on his research he also showed that while the early development of embryo of one species resembled that of other species, it passed through a number of states that became progressively different from each other so that the adult never resembles other species.1792-02-17T00:00:00+00001793-01-01T00:00:00+0000Coined from the Greek word 'bios', meaning life' and suffix 'logy' meaning 'science of'. The term was introduced independently by Thomas Beddoes in 1799, Karl Friedrich Burdacgh in 1800, and Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1802.1799-01-01T00:00:00+0000Schleiden was a botanist. Based on his study of plant structures under the microscope he helped develop the theory that cells are the basic structure in all organisms and the basic unit of reproduction. He also connected the cell nucleus with cell division and suggested that all embryonic plant cells arose from one cell. 1804-04-05T00:00:00+00001808-01-01T00:00:00+0000Darwin was an English naturalist best known for developing the theory that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry. His book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, outlined his evidence for his theory of evolution. While initially rejected, his explanation of natural selection as the basic mechanism for evolution achieved broad consensus by 1930s and was accepted as a unifying theory for the diversity of life.1809-02-12T00:00:00+0000Schwann was a physiologist who defined the cell as the basic unit of animal tissue structure. This was based on his investigation of the structure and function of nerves, muscles and blood vessels. His work in this area was aided by the arrival of new powerful microscopes. Schwann's work laid the foundation for the study of cell biology.1810-12-07T00:00:00+00001811-01-01T00:00:00+0000Term 'bacteriophage, was coined by Felix d'Herelle in 1917. 1815-01-01T00:00:00+0000Brown-Sequard was a physiologist and neurologist. He is best known for his discovery of the physiology of the spinal cord and the need for the adrenal gland. In addition, he predicted the existence of hormones. He sparked controversy after claiming to have rejuvenated his sexual prowess by injecting himself with extracts of monkey testis. His response to the extracts is now considered to have been placebo but his experiment helped found endocrinology as a discipline.1817-04-08T00:00:00+00001818-01-22T00:00:00+0000Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from a medical school in US (Geneva Medical College, New York). In 1857 she set up the New York Dispensary for Indigent Women and Children. A year later she became the first woman registered on UK Medical Register. Blackwell was an ardent promoter of women's education in medicine. In 1874 she helped set up the London School of Medicine for Women which prepared women to take the licensing exam of the Apothecaries Hall. For Blackwell, medicine was a means for social and moral reform. Between 1880 and 1895 she became involved in a number of reform movements, including moral reform, sexual purity, hygiene, Eugenics, medical ethics, and women's rights. 1821-02-03T00:00:00+0000Galton is best known for having ignited the debate about 'Nature versus Nature' in 1869 and coined the term 'Eugenics' in 1883. Inspired by his cousin Charles Darwin's work, he developed a programme of research to understand human variation, looking at their differences in mental capabilities and height to facial characteristics and fingerprint patterns. He pioneered the use of statistical methods to determine human differences and how intelligence and physical trains are passed down through families. 1822-02-16T00:00:00+0000Mendel is today considered the father of modern genetics. An Augustinian monk, Mendel helped establish the basic laws of genetic inheritance by studying the traits between different pea plant generations. Mendel conducted this research between 1853 and 1863. Based on experiments with tens of thousands of different plants, Mendel established that peas followed certain patterns in terms of the traits they inherited. He published his results in 1866, but he did little to promote his work. The importance of his work was only grasped many decades later after his death. 1822-07-20T00:00:00+0000Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist who is best known for inventing a sterilisation method for slowing down the development of microbes in milk and wine, a process now called pasteurisation. He also made significant breakthroughs in understanding the causes and prevention of bacterial diseases. His work was instrumental in helping to reduce the mortality rate from puerperal fever, a major cause of death for women in childbirth in the 19th century. Pasteur also pioneered the first rabies vaccine.1822-12-27T00:00:00+0000Jenner was an English physician who helped pioneer the smallpox vaccine based on his hypothesis that the pus in blisters milkmaids received from cowpox protected them from smallpox. To test out his theory in 1796 he inoculated the 8 year old son of his gardener with pus taken from the cowpox blisters of a local milkmaid. While the boy suffered a fever he showed now sign of infection with smallpox. Jenner then injected the child with smallpox material, a common method of immunisation at the time, known as variolation. Again he showed no sign of infection. Jenner then tested out the same technique in 23 further people. Based on his success, in 1840 the British government decided to outlaw variolation and instead provide Jenner's method for free to prevent smallpox. Jenner's work laid the foundation for immunisation as a method for preventing disease and for contemporary discoveries in immunology. 1823-01-26T00:00:00+0000A chemist and physiologist, Hoppe-Seyler helped pioneer the disciplines of biochemistry and molecular biology. He studied fluids of the body such as blood, haemoglobin, pus, bile, milk, and urine and was the first to crystallise haemoglobin and observe its absorption spectrum. In addition he performed several important studies on chlorophyll and isolated several different proteins. Hoppe-Seyler lost both of his parents by the time he was nine years old and spent some of his childhood in an orphan asylum in Halle. He was subsequently adopted by Georg Seyler, the husband of his older sister.1825-12-26T00:00:00+0000Lister pioneered the practice of cleanliness in surgery by introducing the routine use of carbolic acid on surgical instruments and wounds. He developed these methods at Glasgow Royal Infirmary after being inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur. Lister's ideas about the transmission of infection and the use of antiseptics were initially mocked by his peers and it took time for the surgeons to accept them. The adoption of Lister's techniques dramatically reduced the incidence of post-operative infections and improved the safety of surgery. 1827-04-05T00:00:00+0000Lamarck was a French biologist who proposed that physical traits were inherited through generations by two forces. The first force was alchemical and second was environmental. He first outlined his theory of evolution in a lecture in 1802. While discredited for many years, Lamark's theory that organisms can acquire physical traits from their environment and pass these on to their offspring has resurfaced with the rise of epigenetics, a science that seeks to understand how chemical modifications to genes and proteins made in one generation are passed on to the next one. 1829-12-18T00:00:00+0000Kocher was a physician and medical researcher who was a major pioneer in the fields of applied surgery, neurosurgery and, especially, thyroid surgery and endocrinology. His success in the field of surgery is attributed to his implementation of antiseptic wound treatment, use of special masks on patients for anaesthesia and controlling blood loss during surgery. Kocher was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1909 for his work on the physiology, pathology and surgery of the thyroid. He was the first Swiss person and first surgeon to ever receive the prize. Within the field of neurosurgery he showed that some epilepsy cases were caused by brain tumours that could be surgically removed.1841-08-25T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
17 Feb 1792Karl Ernst von Baer was born in Piep estate, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire (now Piibe, Estonia)von BaerSt Petersburg Academy of SciencesEmbryology, Reproduction
1793Caspar Wistar became staff member of the Pennsylvania Hospital and elected curator of the American Philosophical Society Wistar Institute 
1799 - 1802First use of the word 'biology' Beddoes, Burdach, Treviranus, Lamarck  
5 Apr 1804Matthias J Schleiden was bornSchleiden University of JenaCell, Genetics
1808Caspar Wistar appointed sole professor of anatomy, midwifery and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Wistar Institute 
12 Feb 1809Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, United KingdomDarwinShrewsbury, United KingdomEvolution
7 Dec 1810Theodor Schwann was born in Neuss, GermanySchwannUniversity of LiegeCell
1811 - 1814Caspar Wistar published his two volumes of 'A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine', the first American anatomy textbook Wistar Institute 
1815Discovery of bacteriophages, type of virus that attacks bacteria, by English bacteriologist William TwortTwortUniversity of LondonPhage display
8 Apr 1817Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard was born in Port Louis, MauritiusBrown-SequardPort Louis, MauritiusEndocrinology
22 Jan 1818Caspar Wistar died Wistar Institute 
3 Feb 1821Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, EnglandBlackwell  
16 Feb 1822Francis Galton was born in Birmingham, United KingdomGaltonUniversity College LondonGenetics
20 Jul 1822Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Hyncice, Czech RepublicMendelHyncice, Czech RepublicGenetics
27 Dec 1822Louis Pasteur was bornPasteurPasteur InstituteBacteriology
26 Jan 1823Edward Jenner diedJenner Immunology, Vaccine
26 Dec 1825Felix Hoppe-Seyler was born in GermanyHoppe-SeylerUniversity of TubingenBiochemistry
5 Apr 1827Joseph Lister was born in West Ham, London, UKListerGlasgow University, King's College London 
18 Dec 1829Jean-Baptiste Lamarck diedLamarckFrench Academy of SciencesGenetics
25 Aug 1841Emil Theodor Kocher was born in Berne, SwitzerlandKocherUniversity of BerneNeuroscience, Endocrinology, Surgery

17 Feb 1792

Karl Ernst von Baer was born in Piep estate, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire (now Piibe, Estonia)


Caspar Wistar became staff member of the Pennsylvania Hospital and elected curator of the American Philosophical Society

1799 - 1802

First use of the word 'biology'

5 Apr 1804

Matthias J Schleiden was born


Caspar Wistar appointed sole professor of anatomy, midwifery and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania

12 Feb 1809

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

7 Dec 1810

Theodor Schwann was born in Neuss, Germany

1811 - 1814

Caspar Wistar published his two volumes of 'A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine', the first American anatomy textbook


Discovery of bacteriophages, type of virus that attacks bacteria, by English bacteriologist William Twort

8 Apr 1817

Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard was born in Port Louis, Mauritius

22 Jan 1818

Caspar Wistar died

3 Feb 1821

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England

16 Feb 1822

Francis Galton was born in Birmingham, United Kingdom

20 Jul 1822

Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Hyncice, Czech Republic

27 Dec 1822

Louis Pasteur was born

26 Jan 1823

Edward Jenner died

26 Dec 1825

Felix Hoppe-Seyler was born in Germany

5 Apr 1827

Joseph Lister was born in West Ham, London, UK

18 Dec 1829

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck died

25 Aug 1841

Emil Theodor Kocher was born in Berne, Switzerland