Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Alexander was a paediatrician and microbiologist. In the 1940s she developed the first effective treatment against Haemophilus influenzae (Hib), a major killer of infants. Her treatment helped reduced mortality from the disease from nearly 100 per cent to less than 25 per cent. It involved the combination of antiserum therapy with sulfa drugs. Alexander was also one of the first scientists to identify and study antibiotics resistance, which emerged out of her search for antibiotics to treat Hib. She worked out that the resistance was due to random genetic mutations in DNA that were positively selected through evolution. 1901-04-05T00:00:00+0000du Vigneaud was a biochemist whose research focused on sulfur, proteins and peptides. In late 1940s he helped isolate and synthesise two pituitary hormones: vasopressin and oxytocin. Vasopressin is an antidiurtic hormone that helps protect cells from sudden increases or decreases in water which can affect the cell's function. Oxytocin is a neurohormone that helps contract the uterus during labour and stimulate the secretion of milk during lactation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1955 for this work. Prior to this, in the 1930s, he helped identify the chemical structure of insulin and worked out the structure of biotin, a sulfur-bearing vitamin. 1901-05-18T00:00:00+0000Huggins shared the 1966 Nobel Prize for discoveries relating to hormonal treatment of prostrate cancer.1901-09-22T00:00:00+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+0000Patients reported an alleviation of their symptoms. E von Leyden, F Blumenthal, 'Vorlaufige Mittheilungen uber einige Ergebnisse der Krebsforschung aug der I. medizinischen Klinik', Deutsche Med Wschr, 28 (1902), 637-8.1902-01-01T00:00:00+0000Lwoff was a microbiologist. He shared the 1965 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis'. This was based on work he carried out in the early 1950s to understand lysogeny. This is the process by which some the genes of some viruses, bacteriophages (phage), get incorporated into the genetic material of a bacteria but remain latent until the formation of a new phage triggered by a particular event. He found that exposure to ultraviolet light was one factor that could spur on the development a new phage. Lwoff also discovered that vitamins help promote growth in microbes and can serve as co-enzymes. 1902-05-08T00:00:00+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+0000A Swedish biochemist, Tiselius developed the devise electrophoresis to separate and measure charged particles through a stationary liquid in an electric field. He also pioneered synthetic blood plasma.1902-08-10T00:00:00+0000Wilhelm Johannsen, a Danish botanist and geneticist, introduces the terms phenotype to denote the observable traits of an organism, and genotype to denote the inherited instructions an organism carries within its cells. The terms are published in his paper Om arvelighed i samfund og i rene linie. This lays the foundation for the study of genetics. 1903-01-01T00:00:00+0000Eccles was a neurophysiologist whose discoveries relating to peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane in the early 1950s won him the 1963 Nobel Prize for Medicine. He and colleagues also conducted experiments that proved chemical synaptic transmission and uncovered the role of acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter in the brain.1903-01-27T00:00:00+0000Boyd was an immunologist who helped show that blood types are inherited and not influenced by the environment. Based on his genetic analysis of blood groups he divided the world population up into 13 distinct geographical races. 1903-03-04T00:00:00+0000Butenandt was a biochemist. In 1931 he managed to extract estrone and other primary female sex hormones from urine. Three years later he extracted progeterone and testosterone a year later. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939 for his discovery of sex hormones. Initially Butenandt rejected the Prize in accordance with Nazi government policy, but accepted it in 1949. His involvement with the Nazi regime and science to aid its war efforts led to criticism after World War II. He served as the president of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science between 1960 and 1972. 1903-03-24T00:00:00+0000Pincus was a biologist. He first came to public attention in 1934 when he announced the creation of baby rabbits with in vitro fertilisation. His technique involved the removal of an ovum from the mother rabbit, soaking it in a solution with a mixture of saline and estrone and then placing it back in the rabbit. The experiment could not be repeated by other scientists and prompted wide-scale condemnation. It cost him his tenure position at Harvard University. In order to continue his research Pincus helped found the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in 1944, where he led the development of the first contraceptive pill in the early 1950s. 1903-04-09T00:00:00+0000Theorell won the 1955 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning the nature and mode of action of oxidation enzymes.'1903-07-06T00:00:00+0000Beadle was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1958 for discovering the role of genes in regulating biochemical events within cells.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+0000Drew was an African-American physician and surgeon who specialised in blood transfusion. He was instrumental in the improvement of techniques for blood storage and the development of large-scale blood banks in the early part of the Second World War. His work helped save thousands of lives of many thousands of Allied soldiers in the war. Drew resigned from the American Red Cross in 1943 in protest against its practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood which he argued had no scientific foundation. He was the first African-American surgeon selected to be an examiner on the American Board of Surgery. 1904-06-03T00:00:00+0000Stanley was a biochemist and virologist. In 1935 he managed to crystalise the tobacco virus, the causative agent of plant disease. This was a major breakthrough because prior to this no scientists had succeeded in finding out what viruses were. His work laid the foundation for other scientists, using x-ray diffraction, to work out the precise molecular structures and reproduction process of several viruses. During World War II he managed to purify several of the most common influenza viruses and developed a vaccine that was partly effective. In 1946 he shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the 'preparation of enzymes and virus proteins in a pure form.'1904-08-16T00:00:00+0000This was announced at a Conference of Anatomists convened at the Wistar Institute1905-01-01T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
5 Apr 1901Hattie Elizabeth Alexander was born in New York City, USAAlexanderColumbia UniversityAntibacterial agents, Antimicrobial resistance
18 May 1901Vincent du Vigneaud was born in Chicago IL, USAdu VigneaudCornell UniversityBiochemistry
22 Sep 1901Charles B Huggins was born Halifax, CanadaHugginsUniversity of ChicagoOncology, Endocrinology
1902Chromosomes linked with inheritanceBoveri, GarrodZoological-Zootomical Institute, Columbia UniversityGenetics, DNA
1902 - 1908Metabolic disease explained by genetic defectsGarrodOxford UniversityGenetics
1902First attempt to vaccinate against cancer with a patient's own tumour tissuevon Leyden, Blumenthal Immunology, Cancer immunotherapy, Oncology
8 May 1902Andre Lwoff was born in Ainay-le-Chateau, FranceLwoffPasteur InstituteMicrobiology, Virology
16 Jun 1902Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USAMcClintockUniversity of MissouriGenetics
10 Aug 1902Arne W K Tiselius born in Stockholm, SwedenTiseliusUppsala UniversityBiochemistry
1903The notion genetics is introducedJohannsenRoyal Veterinary UniversityDNA
27 Jan 1903John C Eccles was born in Melbourne, AustraliaEcclesAustralian National UniversityNeuroscience
4 Mar 1903William Clouser Boyd was born in Dearborn, Missouri, USABoydBoston UniversityImmunology
24 Mar 1903Adolf F J Butenandt was born in Bremerhaven, GermanyButenandtMax Planck InstituteReproduction
9 Apr 1903Gregory Pincus was born in Woodbine, NJ, USAPincusHarvard University, Worcester Foundation for Experimental BiologyReproduction
Jul 1903Axel H T Theorell was born in Linkoping, SwedenTheorellKarolinska InstitutetBiochemistry
22 Oct 1903George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo NE, USABeadleCalifornia Institute of TechnologyGenetics
19 Dec 1903George D Snell was born in Bradford MA, USASnellJackson LaboratoryGenetics, Immunology, Transplantation
3 Jun 1904Charles R Drew was born in Washington DC, USADrewHoward UniversityTransfusion
16 Aug 1904Wendell M Stanley was born in Ridgeville IN, USAStanleyRockefeller InstituteBiochemistry, Virology, Vaccine
1905Research made the principle objective of the Wistar Institute Wistar Institute 

5 Apr 1901

Hattie Elizabeth Alexander was born in New York City, USA

18 May 1901

Vincent du Vigneaud was born in Chicago IL, USA

22 Sep 1901

Charles B Huggins was born Halifax, Canada


Chromosomes linked with inheritance

1902 - 1908

Metabolic disease explained by genetic defects


First attempt to vaccinate against cancer with a patient's own tumour tissue

8 May 1902

Andre Lwoff was born in Ainay-le-Chateau, France

16 Jun 1902

Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USA

10 Aug 1902

Arne W K Tiselius born in Stockholm, Sweden


The notion genetics is introduced

27 Jan 1903

John C Eccles was born in Melbourne, Australia

4 Mar 1903

William Clouser Boyd was born in Dearborn, Missouri, USA

24 Mar 1903

Adolf F J Butenandt was born in Bremerhaven, Germany

9 Apr 1903

Gregory Pincus was born in Woodbine, NJ, USA

9 Apr 1903

Axel H T Theorell was born in Linkoping, Sweden

22 Oct 1903

George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo NE, USA

19 Dec 1903

George D Snell was born in Bradford MA, USA

3 Jun 1904

Charles R Drew was born in Washington DC, USA

16 Aug 1904

Wendell M Stanley was born in Ridgeville IN, USA


Research made the principle objective of the Wistar Institute