Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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van Beneden was a cytologist and embryologist. He worked out how chromosomes divide during cell meiosis. Based on studies of an intestinal worm found in horses, he also showed that fertilisation involves the union of two half-nuclei, one form the male sperm cell and one from the female egg, each containing half the the number of chromosomes found in all cells. He later demonstrated that the chromosome number is constant for every body cell in each species. 1846-03-05T00:00:00+0000MacEwen was a Scottish physician who developed a technique to locate brain tumours by observing changes in motor and sensory functions. He performed the first successful intracranial surgery in 1879 on a teenage girl. The operation was conducted based on preoperative observation of twitches on her face and arms. The patient lived for another eight years. An autopsy performed after her death showed no trace of her tumour. 1848-06-22T00:00:00+0000Hertwig was a biologist who determined that fertilisation starts when the nuclei of sperm and ovum cells fuse. This he proved in 1876 through experiments with sea urchins. Eight years later he demonstrated, through investigations of frog eggs, that the cell divides along its long axis. He was also prescient in predicting, in 1885, that the nucleic acid is the substance responsible for fertilisation and the transmission of hereditary traits. This phenomenon was proven in 1944. 1849-04-21T00:00:00+0000Richet won the 1913 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his research into anaphylaxis, an acute allergic reaction where extremely small doses of an allergen may cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock.1850-08-26T00:00:00+0000Ramon y Cahal was a histologist and neuroscientist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to uncover the structure of the nervous system. His theory that the brain is made up of individual cells rather than a tangled web is now a fundamental principle in neuroscience. He shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1906 for his discoveries about the structure of the nervous system. 1852-05-01T00:00:00+0000Petri was a microbiologist who is credited with inventing the petri dish, a shallow glass cylinder used to culture cells and bacteria. This he developed in the late 1870s while working as an assistant to Robert Koch. Petri developed the dish to help culture bacteria on agar plates. He subsequently developed the technique of agar culture to clone bacterial colonies derived from single cells. His work helped improve the process of identifying bacteria responsible for disease. 1852-05-31T00:00:00+0000Fischer was a German chemist who opened up the era of biochemistry by clarifying the structure of sugars and enzymes and elaborating how they were formed. In 1902 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for demonstrating the structure of biological compounds, including sugars proteins and purines. He synthesised many natural occurring molecules for the first time, including glucose, caffeine, and uric acid. In addition, he managed to synthesis several amino acids and created small chains of them as precursors to protein formation. Fisher is also associated with the idea of the 'lock and key' mechanism which is used to explain how enzymes catalyse certain reactions and not others.1852-10-09T00:00:00+0000A Danish bacteriologist, Gram developed a method to quickly identify two different large groups of bacteria. His method is now routinely used for histology and microbiology. Bacteria that absorb the stain which turn purple are known as Gram positive bacteria, and those that do not absorb the stain, which might be coloured pink with a counterstain, are labelled Gram negative. 1853-09-13T00:00:00+0000Kossel was a German biochemist who was a key pioneer in the field of genetics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1910 for having isolated and described the five organic compounds present in nucleic acid. The compounds he isolated were adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, and uracil. These are key to the formation of DNA and RNA. Kossel's work also laid the foundation for determining the composition of protein and its polypetides. 1853-09-16T00:00:00+0000Ehrlich played a significant role in the development of the first serum therapy to combat diphtheria in the 1890s and devised methods for standardising therapeutic serums. In addition he invented staining techniques for distinguishing different types of blood cells which laid the foundation for diagnosing blood disorders. In 1900 he popularised the 'magic bullet' concept which promoted the idea of developing a drug capable of killing specific disease-causing microbes, like bacteria, without harming the body itself. Nine years later he succeeded in creating Salvasan, the first drug created to target a specific pathogen and the first effective medical treatment for syphilis. Ehrlich also coined the term 'antibody' and transformed understandings of how the immune system worked. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine on the back of this work. Despite his groundbreaking research, Ehrlich struggled to get a permanent position because of his Jewish background. 1854-03-14T00:00:00+0000von Behring was a military physician. He is best known for contributions to the studies of immunity. This was aided by his discovery of a diphtheria toxin, in 1890, which laid the basis for the development of the first drug against diphtheria. The drug was the first serum therapy developed. He later went on to develop a serum therapy against tetanus. Von Behring shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1901 for the development of his serum therapies.1854-03-15T00:00:00+0000Takamine was the first to isolate and purify the hormone adrenalin from animal glands. It was the first effective bronchodilator for asthma. This he achieved in 1901 while working for the division of chemistry at the Department of Agriculture and Commerce in Japan. It was the first pure hormone isolated from a natural source.1854-11-03T00:00:00+0000The bacterium was found in the human colon by German paediatrician Theodor Escherich while searching for the cause of fatal intestinal diseases in children. Inititally it was called Bacterium coli, but was later renamed Escherichia coli in honour of its discoverer. The bacterium would go on to become the most studied living organism and a major tool for biotechnology.1855-01-01T00:00:00+0000Ross was the son of a General in the British Army and went on to train as a British doctor. He is best known for showing that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. In 1897 he discovered a parasite, Plasmodium, living in the gastrointestitnal tract of a mosquito. He went on to elucidate the life-cycle of the parasite. His research laid the foundation for developing methods to prevent the transmission of malaria. In 1902 he was awarded the Nobel Prize of Medicine on the back of this work. He was the first British Nobel Prize winner born outside Europe. 1857-05-13T00:00:00+0000Sherrington shared the 1932 Nobel Prize for Medicine for research into the function of neurons. He coined the terms synapse and neuron to describe parts of the nerve cell that receive or transmit nervous impulses between cells. 1857-11-27T00:00:00+0000Eijkman was a physician and physiologist who helped demonstrate that a poor diet contributes to beriberi, a disease of the peripheral nerves. He first noticed the link in 1897 when by mistake his laboratory chickens were fed a diet of polished, rather than unpolished, rice. Ill-health prevented Eijkman from pinpointing which missing dietary component was important. It was subsequently found that a deficiency of vitamin B1, thiamine, contributed to beriberi. Eijkman shared the Nobel Prize in 1929 for his work in this field. 1858-08-11T00:00:00+0000Charles Darwin, English naturalist, publishes his theory of natural selection which establishes that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry.1859-01-01T00:00:00+0000Loeb was a physiologist and biologist who demonstrated the possibility of reproduction without male fertilisation, parthenogenesis, in sea urchin eggs. He found it was possible to stimulate embryonic development in the eggs of sea urchins without sperm by making slight chemical changes to the water where the eggs were kept. This he discovered while conducting experiments at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. His results were published in 'Activation of the unfertilized egg by ultra-violet rays', Science, 40/1036 (1914), 680-1. While Loeb was nominated for the Nobel Prize many times he never won. 1859-04-07T00:00:00+0000Smith was a major bacteriologist, pathologist and epidemiologist. Together with Daniel E Salmon, he provided the first proof that killed bacteria could be used to induce immunity in experimental animals, in 1886. This laid the foundation for the subsequent development of protective immunisation in humans against bacterial diseases like typhoid and cholera. Smith also pioneered the use of the fermentation tube to study bacterial physiology and classification. Using this technique he managed to identify the causes of several infectious parasitic diseases, including Texas Cattle Fever caused by ticks. His delineation of the life-cycle of the tick paved the way to control of the disease by dipping cattle to kill the ticks. Smith's revelation that insects could transmit disease was a major breakthrough and laid the foundation for the investigation of yellow fever and malaria. Smith established the first department of bacteriology at a medical school in the United States - at Columbian University (now George Washington University). 1859-07-31T00:00:00+0000Bayliss as a physiologist who, together with Ernest Starling, discovered the first hormone. Found in 1902 the two scientists named the hormone 'secretin' after the Greek word meaning to set in motion. The hormone helps secrete pancreatic juice when food enters the intestines. Bayliss subsequently worked out how trypsin, an enzyme, formed in the small intestine and the time it took to digest protein. He also saved the lives of many soldiers in World War I by recommending injections of gum-saline injections. He made the recommendation based on his studies of wound shock. 1860-05-02T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
5 Mar 1846Edouard van Beneden was born in Leuven, Belgianvan Beneden University of LiegeCell, Genetics, DNA
22 Jun 1848William MacEwen was bornMacEwenUniversity of GlasgowNeuroscience
21 Apr 1849Oskar Hertwig was born in Friedberg, GermanyHertwigFriedberg, GermanyReproduction, Genetics
26 Aug 1850Charles Robert Richet was born in Paris, FranceRichetSorbonne UniversityImmunology
1 May 1852Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born in Petilla de Arago, SpainRamon y CajalMadrid UniversityNeuroscience
31 May 1852Richard Julius Petri was bornPetriImperial Health OfficeBacteriology
9 Oct 1852Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Prussia (now Germany)FischerUniversity of BerlinBiochemistry
13 Sep 1853Hans Christian Joachim Gram was born in Copenhagen, DenmarkGramUniversity of CopenhagenBacteriology
16 Sep 1853Albrecht Kossel was born in Rostock, Mecklenburg (now Germany)KosselUniversity of HeidelbergGenetics
14 Mar 1854Paul Ehrlich was born in Strehlen (now Strzelin), Prussia (now Poland)EhrlichStrehlen, PrussiaImmunology, Bacteriology, Antibodies
15 Mar 1854Emil Adolf von Behring was born in Hansdorf, Prussia (now Poland)von BehringHansdorf, Prussia (now Poland)Antibodies
3 Nov 1854Jokichi Takamine was born in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, JapanTakamineTakaoka, Toyama Prefecture, JapanBiochemistry
1855Escherichia coli bacterium first discoveredEscherich  
13 May 1857Ronald Ross was born in Almora, IndiaRossUniversity College LiverpoolInfectious diseases
27 Nov 1857Charles S Sherrington was born in London, United KingdomSherringtonLondon, United KingdomNeuroscience
11 Aug 1858Christiaan Eijkman was born in Nijkerk, the NetherlandsEijkmanUtrecht UniversityNutrition
1859Darwin publishes 'On the Origin of Species'Darwin Evolution
7 Apr 1859Jacques Loeb was born in Mayen, Germany LoebRockefeller UniversityReproduction
31 Jul 1859Theobald Smith was born in Albany, New York, USASmithBureau of Animal Industry, George Washington UniversityInfectious diseases, Bacteriology
2 May 1860William M Bayliss was born in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, UKBaylissUniversity College LondonEndocrinology

5 Mar 1846

Edouard van Beneden was born in Leuven, Belgian

22 Jun 1848

William MacEwen was born

21 Apr 1849

Oskar Hertwig was born in Friedberg, Germany

26 Aug 1850

Charles Robert Richet was born in Paris, France

1 May 1852

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born in Petilla de Arago, Spain

31 May 1852

Richard Julius Petri was born

9 Oct 1852

Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Prussia (now Germany)

13 Sep 1853

Hans Christian Joachim Gram was born in Copenhagen, Denmark

16 Sep 1853

Albrecht Kossel was born in Rostock, Mecklenburg (now Germany)

14 Mar 1854

Paul Ehrlich was born in Strehlen (now Strzelin), Prussia (now Poland)

15 Mar 1854

Emil Adolf von Behring was born in Hansdorf, Prussia (now Poland)

3 Nov 1854

Jokichi Takamine was born in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Japan


Escherichia coli bacterium first discovered

13 May 1857

Ronald Ross was born in Almora, India

27 Nov 1857

Charles S Sherrington was born in London, United Kingdom

11 Aug 1858

Christiaan Eijkman was born in Nijkerk, the Netherlands


Darwin publishes 'On the Origin of Species'

7 Apr 1859

Jacques Loeb was born in Mayen, Germany

31 Jul 1859

Theobald Smith was born in Albany, New York, USA

2 May 1860

William M Bayliss was born in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, UK