Genetics: Timeline of key events

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Galton is best known for having ignited the debate about 'Nature versus Nurture' 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 traits are passed down through families. 1911-01-17T00:00:00+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+0000Mazia was a cell biologist whose passion was to understand how cells reproduce. As a doctoral researcher he was one of the first to establish the role of calcium in the egg activation in the process of fertilisation. Following this worked on the process of cell division, structure and division. He is best known for the work he did in 1931 which helped identify the cell structure responsible for mitosis, the process when a eukaryotic cell divides chromosomes into two identical daughter cells. Mazia also determined how the nucleus and chromosomes change during the cell cycle.1912-12-18T00:00:00+0000Dulbecco was a virologist who in the 1950s helped to pioneer the growth of animal viruses in culture and work out how certain viruses cause tumours in the cells they infect. He and his colleagues demonstrated that the virus inserted DNA into the DNA of the host cell and this cell transformed into a cancer cell which reproduced the viral DNA along with its own thereby producing more cancer cell. This work not only aided better understanding of how viruses cause cancer, but also HIV. Dulbecco shared the 1975 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his 'discoveries concerning the interaction between tumour viruses and the genetic material of the cell.'1914-02-22T00:00:00+0000Crick is best known for the work he did with James Watson that identified the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953, for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1962. He also developed the central dogma of molecular biology which explained how genetic information flowed within a biological system, moving from DNA to RNA and then protein. His subsequent work looked at the way in which the brain works and the nature of consciousness. 1916-06-08T00:00:00+0000Wilkins was a biophysicist whose development of x-ray diffraction techniques helped determine the structure of DNA. He obtained the first x-ray patterns on DNA in 1950. This work led to his winning the Nobel Prize in 1962. Following his work on DNA, Wilkins directed his attention to studying the structure of various forms of RNA and a wide group of genetic problems, like ageing. In his younger years, Wilkins was recruited to work on the Manhattan atomic bomb project during the war. Wilkins became profoundly disillusioned with nuclear weapons after the bombing of Japan and was the president of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science from 1969 to 1991. 1916-12-15T00:00:00+0000A geneticist by training, Sager enjoyed two careers. She first made her mark in the 1950s and 1950s when she discovered the transmission of genetic traits through chloroplast DNA. This was the first example of genetics not involving the cell nucleus. Later on she became a major pioneer in cancer genetics in the early 1970s and was one of the first to propose and investigate the function of tumour suppressor genes. 1918-02-07T00:00:00+0000Kornberg was a biochemist renowned for his research on enzymes which create DNA. In 1956 he and his team isolated the first enzyme known to be involved in the replication of DNA. It would be called DNA polymerase I. For this work Kornberg shared the 1959 Nobel Prize for Medicine. The Prize was given for the discovery of the 'mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid.'1918-03-03T00:00:00+0000Lewis was a developmental geneticist who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development. He made these discoveries based on the fruit fly. By crossbreeding thousands of flies he demonstrated that genes were arranged on the chromosome in the same order as their body segments, whereby the first set of genes controls the development of the head and thorax, the middle set the abdomen, and the final set the hind parts. He also discovered that the genetic regulatory functions could overlap. A fly with a defective gene in the thoracic region could develop an extra set of wings. His work helped explain the causes of congenital deformities. 1918-05-20T00:00:00+0000Monod was a biochemist who, together with Francois Jacob, worked out the genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis based on their experiments with Escherichia coli in the early 1960s. They proposed that a messenger molecule in cells carried codes from the DNA in the cell nucleus to the site of protein synthesis in the cell's cytoplasm. This molecule was later called messenger RNA. Based on his work Monrod was awarded a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1965. 1920-06-07T00:00:00+0000Jacob was a French biologist who on the back of experiments in bacteria with Jacques Monod provided the first evidence of the existence and role of an intermediary molecule, now known as messenger RNA, which carries genetic information from genes to the cell's protein factories for the production of specific proteins. He shared the Nobel Prize in 1965 for 'discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.'1920-06-17T00:00:00+0000Witkin is best known for her work on DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair. She helped elucidate the first co-ordinated stress response. This she did by studying the response of bacteria to UV radiation. Witkins was one of the first few women to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences, in 1977. She was also awarded the National Medal of Science in 2002. 1921-03-09T00:00:00+0000The son of Jewish Polih immigrants, Benzer was a molecular biologist who proved that genetic mutations were caused by changes in the DNA sequence. This was based on some experiments he pursued with mutant T4 bacteriophages, known as r mutants. In 1952 he spotted abnormal behaviour in one mutant strain and a year later devised a technique to measure the recombination frequency between different r mutant strains to map the substructure of a single gene. His work laid the path to determining the detailed structure of viral genes. Benzer also coined the term cistron to denote functional subunits of genes. Together with Ronald Konopka, his student, Benzer also discovered the first gene to control an organism's sense of time, in 1971. 1921-10-15T00:00:00+0000Khorana was a chemist who shared the 1968 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the elucidation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis. He helped demonstrate that the chemical composition and function of a new cell is determined by four nucleotides in DNA and that the nucleotide code is transmitted in groups of three, called codons, and these codons instruct the cell to start and stop the production of proteins. His work also laid the foundation for the development of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that makes it possible to make billions of copies of small fragments of DNA. 1922-01-09T00:00:00+0000Holley was a biochemist who shared the 1968 Nobel Prize for Medicine for explaining how the genetic code controls the synthesis of proteins. This stemmed from his research on RNA which he began in the late 1940s. By 1960 and he and collaborators showed that amino acids were assembled into proteins by transfer RNAs (tRNAs). In 1965 he managed to determine the composition of tRNA that incorporates the amino acid alanine into protein molecules. 1922-01-28T00:00:00+0000Hertwig was a German 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. 1922-10-25T00:00:00+0000Lederberg is best known for having discovered the lambda phage, an indispensable tool for studying gene regulation and genetic recombination. She also invented the replica plating technique which is pivotal to tracking antibiotic resistance. 1922-12-18T00:00:00+0000Lederberg was an American geneticist who helped discover the mechanism of genetic recombination in bacteria. This was based on some experiments he performed with Edward Tatum in 1946 which involved mixing two different strains of bacteria. Their experiments also demonstrated for the first time that bacteria reproduced sexually, rather than by cells splitting in two, thereby proving that bacterial genetic systems were similar to those of multicelluar organisms. Later on, in 1952, working with Norton Zinder, Lederberg found that certain bacteriophages (viruses that affect bacteria) could carry a bacterial gene from one bacterium to another. In 1958 Lederberg shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organisation of the genetic material of bacteria.' 1925-05-23T00:00:00+0000Smithies was a geneticist and physical biochemist. He first made his mark in 1955 through his invention of starch gel electrophoresis, a technique used to study human protein variation. Later on, in the 1980s he developed a method for targeted gene replacement in mice, now known as gene targeting, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2007. His method paved the way to the creation of thousands of lines of mice carrying desired genetic mutations. Such mice are now widely used to investigate the role of many different genes in human health and disease.1925-06-23T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
17 Jan 1911Francis Galton diedGaltonUniversity College LondonGenetics
4 May 1912Nettie Maria Stevens diedStevensBryn Mawr College, Carnegie InstituteGenetics
13 Aug 1912Salvador E Luria was born in Torino, ItalyLuriaMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyGenetics, Virology
18 Dec 1912Daniel Mazia was born Scranton, PA, USAMaziaUniversity of California BerkeleyCell, Genetics, Reproduction
22 Feb 1914Renato Dulbecco was born in Catanzaro, ItalyDulbeccoImperial Cancer Research Fund LaboratoryGenetics, Virology, Oncology
8 Jun 1916Francis H C Crick was born in Northampton, United KingdomCrickLaboratory of Molecular BiologyDNA, Genetics
15 Dec 1916Maurice H F Wilkins was born in Pongaroa, New ZealandWilkinsKing's College LondonDNA, Genetics
7 Feb 1918Ruth Sager was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, USASagerRockefeller UniversityGenetics, Oncology
3 Mar 1918Arthur Kornberg was born in Brooklyn NY, USAKornbergStanford UniversityGenetics, DNA, RNA
20 May 1918Edward B Lewis was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, USALewisCalifornia Institute of TechnologyGenetics, Embryology
7 Jun 1920Jacques Monod was born in Nancy, FranceMonodPasteur InstituteGenetics
17 Jun 1920Francois Jacob was born in Nancy, FranceJacobPasteur InstituteGenetics
9 Mar 1921Evelyn Witkin was born in New York City, USAWitkinNew York CityDNA, Genetics
15 Oct 1921Seymour Benzer was born in Brooklyn, NY, USABenzerPurdue University, California Institute of TechnologyDNA, genetics
9 Jan 1922Har Gobind Khorana was born in Raipur, IndiaKhoranaUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyDNA, Genetics, PCR
28 Jan 1922Robert W Holley was born in Urbana IL, USAHolleyCornell UniversityGenetics, RNA
25 Oct 1922Oskar Hertwig diedHertwig Reproduction, Genetics
18 Dec 1922Esther Lederberg was born in Bronx, New York, USAEsther LederbergWisconsin UniversityGenetics, Antimicrobial resistance, Bacteriophages, Lambda phage
23 May 1925Joshua Lederberg was born in Montclair, NJ, USAJoshua LederbergUniversity of WisconsinGenetics, Plasmids, Recombinant DNA
23 Jun 1925Oliver Smithies was born in Halifax, United KingdomSmithesUniversity of Washington, University of North CarolinaGenetics, Transgenic animals

17 Jan 1911

Francis Galton died

4 May 1912

Nettie Maria Stevens died

13 Aug 1912

Salvador E Luria was born in Torino, Italy

18 Dec 1912

Daniel Mazia was born Scranton, PA, USA

22 Feb 1914

Renato Dulbecco was born in Catanzaro, Italy

8 Jun 1916

Francis H C Crick was born in Northampton, United Kingdom

15 Dec 1916

Maurice H F Wilkins was born in Pongaroa, New Zealand

7 Feb 1918

Ruth Sager was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA

3 Mar 1918

Arthur Kornberg was born in Brooklyn NY, USA

20 May 1918

Edward B Lewis was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA

7 Jun 1920

Jacques Monod was born in Nancy, France

17 Jun 1920

Francois Jacob was born in Nancy, France

9 Mar 1921

Evelyn Witkin was born in New York City, USA

15 Oct 1921

Seymour Benzer was born in Brooklyn, NY, USA

9 Jan 1922

Har Gobind Khorana was born in Raipur, India

28 Jan 1922

Robert W Holley was born in Urbana IL, USA

25 Oct 1922

Oskar Hertwig died

18 Dec 1922

Esther Lederberg was born in Bronx, New York, USA

23 May 1925

Joshua Lederberg was born in Montclair, NJ, USA

23 Jun 1925

Oliver Smithies was born in Halifax, United Kingdom