Genetics: Timeline of key events

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Muller was a geneticist. He is best known for the experiments he carried out that demonstrated that X-rays could change the genetic make-up fruit-flies and the mutations be passed on to subsequent generations. Published in 1927 this work attracted widespread attention it marked the first time the genetics of a species was intentionally altered. Muller's work opened up new understanding of how mutations are caused and heralded a revolution in genetics research. He was awarded he 1946 Nobel Prize for 'the discovery of the production of mutations by means of X-ray irradiation'.1890-12-21T00:00:00+0000William G Ruppel discovered the nucleotide while trying to isolate the bacterial toxin responsible for tuberculosis. 1898-01-01T00:00:00+0000Lysenko was a Russian biologist who rejected the principles of Mendelian genetics and embraced the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamark who promoted the idea that an organism could pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring. Much of his work was directed towards trying to convert wheat crops to grow in different seasons. Stalin appointed Lysenko director of the Institute of Genetics in 1940, a position he retained until 1965. His rejection of orthodox genetics set Soviet agriculture and biology back by many decades. 1898-09-29T00:00:00+0000Pauling was a chemist and biochemist who helped pioneer quantum chemistry and mechanics. He combined methods from x-ray crystallography, molecular model building and quantum chemistry. Pauling was the first to find the alpha helix structure of proteins. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his 'research on the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex structures.' He also co-authored the first paper to suggest sickle-cell anaemia was a genetic disease, which introduced the concept of 'molecular disease'. Pauling was the only person to have received two Nobel Prizes. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962, which was given for opposition to nuclear weapons.1901-02-28T00:00:00+0000Theodor Boveri, German biologist, and Walter Sutton, American geneticist and physician, independently develop the theory that chromosomes carry genetic material.1902-01-01T00:00:00+0000Archibald Garrod, an English physician, suggests that genetic defects cause the loss of enzymes and hereditary metabolic diseases, providing the first premise for gene therapy. 1902-01-01T00:00:00+0000McClintock was a pioneer in the field of cytogenetics, a branch of genetics concerned with how chromosomes affect cell behaviour. Based on her investigation of how chromosomes change in reproductiuon in maize she demonstrated in the late 1920s that genes can shift to different locations by themselves. In the 1940s and 1950s she showed that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off, a process called transposition. Initially scientists were sceptical of her findings so she stopped publishing her date in 1953. By the 1960s and 1970s attitudes towards her work changed as more scientists made similar findings. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her work.1902-06-16T00:00:00+0000Beadle, a geneticist, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1958 for discovering the role of genes in regulating biochemical events within cells. He made the discovery in collaboration with Edward Tatum while conducting experiments that exposed Neurospora crassa, a the bread mould, to x-rays to cause mutations. They found that the mutations caused changes in specific enzymes that were involved in metabolic pathways. The work was done at Stanford University.1903-10-22T00:00:00+0000Snell was a major founder of immunogenetics as a discipline. He is best known for helping to identify the major histocompatibility complex, a group of genes that code for proteins found on the surface of cells that help the immune system differentiate between self and nonself cells, and demonstrating its role in tissue graft rejection. This work laid the foundation for carrying out successful transplants in both animals and humans. Snell shared the 1980 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions'.1903-12-19T00:00:00+0000Flemming was a German biologist who is credited with the foundation of cytogenetics. He was the first to describe the behaviour of chromosomes during cell division, a process he called mitosis. This he discovered through investigations of the fins and gills of salamanders. He first published his findings in 1878. In addition to his pioneering scientific work, Flemming is famous for his social activism. Notably he fed the homeless on a weekly basis and donated 20% of his salary to homeless shelters. He also taught mathematics and science to children too poor to attend school. 1905-08-04T00:00:00+0000Ochoa was a biochemist and molecular biologist whose research was devoted to understanding enzymes and their role in intermediary metabolism. He was one of the first scientists to show the pivotal role of high energy phosphates, like adenosine triphosphate, in the storage and release of energy. During this work he discovered the enzyme polynucleotide phosphorylase, which plays an important role in the synthesis of ribonucleic acid (RNA). This enzyme provided the foundation for the subsequent synthesis of artificial RNA and the breaking of the human genetic code. Ochoa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1959 for his work on the biological synthesis of RNA.1905-09-24T00:00:00+0000A German biophysicist, Delbruck helped discover how viruses replicate their genetic structure, showing that bacterial resistance from viruses is due to random mutation and not the result of adaptive changes. In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine on the back of this work. 1906-09-04T00:00:00+0000Hershey was a bacteriologist and geneticist. He is best known for a series of experiments with bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, that helped confirm that DNA, rather than proteins, carried genetic material. These he performed with Martha Chase in 1952. Hershey shared the 1969 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.' 1908-12-04T00:00:00+0000Tatum was a biochemist who shared the 1958 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering how genes regulate biochemical events in cells. This was based on some experiments he carried out with colleagues at Stanford University in 1941 which involved crossing normal strains of the pink bread mould, Neurospora crassa, with another strain of the mould they had exposed to X-rays to induce genetic mutations. The offspring were found to inherit the mutation which manifested itself as metabolic defect. This led them to conclude that there was a direct link between genes and enzymatic reactions. 1909-12-14T00:00:00+0000Thomas Hunt Morgan, American evolutionary biologist, links the inheritance of a specific trait with a particular chromosome in fruit flies (Drosophila). 1910-01-01T00:00:00+0000van Beneden was a Belgian 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. 1910-04-28T00:00:00+0000Fraenkel-Conrat was a biochemist who discovered that RNA is pivotal to the genetic control of viral reproduction and that it is carried in the nucelic core of each virus. He made this finding in 1955 during experiments with the tobacco mosaic virus. By 1960 he had determined the complete sequence of the 159 amino acids in the virus.1910-04-29T00:00:00+0000Galton is best known as an early pioneer of Eugenics1911-01-17T00:00:00+0000Stevens was an American biologist who was one of the first scientists to describe the importance of the Y chromosome for determining the sex of some species, and to recognise that females have two X chromosomes. This she determined after noting male beetles produced two kinds of sperm: each with different sized chromosomes. In 1905 she was awarded $1000 for the best scientific paper written by a women. Five years later she was listed as one of America's leading 1000 scientists by The New York Times. 1912-05-04T00:00:00+0000Luria was a microbiologist who made his name in 1943 when he demonstrated, with Max Delbruck, that viruses undergo permanent changes in their hereditary material. The same year he and Delbruck showed phage-resistant bacteria resulted from spontaneous mutations rather than as a direct response to environmental changes. Their work helped explain how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. Luria had landed up working with Delbruck in the US because he was banned from academic research fellowships in Italy under Mussolini's Italian fascist regime because of his Jewish background. In 1969 Luria was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for helping to discover the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses. 1912-08-13T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
21 Dec 1890Hermann J Muller was born in New York, USAMullerIndiana UniversityGenetics
1898A nucelotide called tuberculinic acid found to bind to the protein tuberculin. It is now regarded as the precursor to the discovery of DNA methylationRuppelPhilipps University of MarburgDNA methylation, Epigenetics
29 Sep 1898Trofim D Lysenko as born in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate, Russian EmpireLyschenoLenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural SciencesEvolution, Genetics
28 Feb 1901Linus C Pauling was born in Portland OR, USAPaulingCalifornia Institute of TechnologyGenetics, DNA
1902Chromosomes linked with inheritanceBoveri, GarrodZoological-Zootomical Institute, Columbia UniversityGenetics, DNA
1902 - 1908Metabolic disease explained by genetic defectsGarrodOxford UniversityGenetics
16 Jun 1902Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USAMcClintockUniversity of MissouriGenetics
22 Oct 1903George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo NE, USABeadleCalifornia Institute of Technology, Stanford UniversityGenetics
19 Dec 1903George D Snell was born in Bradford MA, USASnellJackson LaboratoryGenetics, Immunology, Transplantation
4 Aug 1905Walther Flemming diedFlemmingUniversity of KielCell, Genetics
24 Sep 1905Severo Ochoa was born in Luarca, SpainOchoaNew York UniversityGenetics, DNA, RNA
4 Sep 1906Max Delbruck was born in Berlin, GermanyDelbruckCalifornia Institute of TechnologyGenetics, Virology
4 Dec 1908Alfred D Hershey was born in Owosso, MI, USAHersheyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonGenetics, Virology
14 Dec 1909Edward L Tatum was born in Boulder CO, USATatumStanford University, Yale UniversityGenetics
1910Chromosomes linked with hereditary traitsMorganColumbia UniversityGenetics
28 Apr 1910Edouard van Beneden diedvan Beneden University of LiegeCell, Genetics, DNA
29 Apr 1910Heinz Ludwig Fraenkel-Conrat was bornFraenkel-Conrat University of California BerkeleyGenetics, Virology
17 Jan 1911Francis Galton diedGalton Genetics
4 May 1912Nettie Maria Stevens diedStevensBryn Mawr College, Carnegie InstituteGenetics
13 Aug 1912Salvador E Luria was born in Torino, ItalyLuriaMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyGenetics, Virology

21 Dec 1890

Hermann J Muller was born in New York, USA


A nucelotide called tuberculinic acid found to bind to the protein tuberculin. It is now regarded as the precursor to the discovery of DNA methylation

29 Sep 1898

Trofim D Lysenko as born in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate, Russian Empire

28 Feb 1901

Linus C Pauling was born in Portland OR, USA


Chromosomes linked with inheritance

1902 - 1908

Metabolic disease explained by genetic defects

16 Jun 1902

Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USA

22 Oct 1903

George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo NE, USA

19 Dec 1903

George D Snell was born in Bradford MA, USA

4 Aug 1905

Walther Flemming died

24 Sep 1905

Severo Ochoa was born in Luarca, Spain

4 Sep 1906

Max Delbruck was born in Berlin, Germany

4 Dec 1908

Alfred D Hershey was born in Owosso, MI, USA

14 Dec 1909

Edward L Tatum was born in Boulder CO, USA


Chromosomes linked with hereditary traits

28 Apr 1910

Edouard van Beneden died

29 Apr 1910

Heinz Ludwig Fraenkel-Conrat was born

17 Jan 1911

Francis Galton died

4 May 1912

Nettie Maria Stevens died

13 Aug 1912

Salvador E Luria was born in Torino, Italy