Timeline of key events in biotechnology

Mouseover the event title for a more detailed description of the event (if available). To search for particular terms in the description of the event enter the term in the box below 'Event' on the table and press 'enter'. Alternatively use the dropdown lists to filter by Person, Place or Science. Click here to clear the filter.

Michael Smith shared the 1993 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for a technique that enables researchers to introduce specific mutations into genes and, thus, to the proteins that they encode. He developed the method, known as site-directed mutagenesis, in the 1970s, in collaboration with Fred Sanger and Clyde A Hutchinson III. The advantage of the technique was that it allowed comparisons to be made of different protein molecules and provided a means to deliberately alter a specific gene thereby making it possible to modify the characteristics of an organism. His work opened up a new chapter for studying and treating genetic diseases. Site-directed mutagenesis is a pivotal tool today in genetic and protein research and engineering and at the forefront of the development of monoclonal antibody drugs. 1932-04-26T00:00:00+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. 1932-09-16T00:00:00+0000Vilcek is an immunologist who helped develop methods for the molecular characterisation of the cytokine human interferon and for its production for clinical use. In addition, Vilcek was instrumental in elucidating the biological action of tumour necrosis factor (TNF), a cytokine involved in the promotion of inflammation. Together with Junming Le, Vilcek created the first monoclonal antibody against TNF approved for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders. Coming from a Jewish family, Vilcek survived World War II by being sent by his parents into a Catholic orphanage and then going into hiding with his mother. In 1964 he fled Communist Czechslovakia and became a refugee scientist based at New York University. 1933-06-17T00:00:00+0000Mansfield won the 2003 Nobel Prize for Medicine for pioneering magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), body scanning technology.1933-10-09T00:00:00+0000John Marrack, a British chemical pathologist, proposes the biochemical forces which underly the bond between antibodies and antigens. 1934-01-01T00:00:00+0000Sanuelson is a Swedish biochemist who helped isolate, identify and determine the function of prostaglandins. These are a family group of compounds that regulate blood pressure, body temperature, allergic reactions and other physiological actions in mammals. He also discovered a number of new prostaglandins, including thrombaxane, which helps with blood clotting and the contraction of blood vessels. The bulk of this work he did in the 1960s and 1970s, for which he was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize for Medicine. His later work concerned leukotrienes, a group of lipids closely related to prostaglandins that are involved in inflammation, looking for agents that could inhibit their actions. 1934-05-21T00:00:00+0000Curie won two Nobel Prizes, one in 1903 and another in 1911 for pioneering the study of radioactivity.1934-07-04T00:00:00+0000Ramon y Cahal was a Spanish 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. 1934-10-17T00:00:00+0000Temin shared the 1975 Nobel Prize for Medicine for work on the interactions between tumour viruses and the genetic material of the cell. 1934-12-10T00:00:00+0000A pathologist and microbiologist, Smith identified the causes of several infectious parasitic diseases, including Texas Cattle Fever caused by ticks. His work laid the ground for investigation of yellow fever and malaria. 1934-12-10T00:00:00+0000The American biomedical scientists Michael Heidelberger, Forrest Kendall and Elvin Kabat demonstrate antibodies to be proteins.1935-01-01T00:00:00+0000Macleod was a Scottish physician and biochemist who was a key adviser in the original experiments carried out by Frederick Grant Banting Charles Best to establish the use of insulin as a treatment for diabetes. Macleod provided the laboratory space and experimental animals for the work. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for helping develop insulin therapy for diabetes in 1923. 1935-03-16T00:00:00+0000Cohen is an American physician and geneticist whose research has focused on the biology of bacterial plasmids, independent circular units of DNA found in and sometimes exchanged by bacteria. In 1970 he found a way to make Escherichia coli acquire a plasmid that made it resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline. He also discovered with Herbert Boyer a restriction enzyme that could cleave a circular plasmid at a single site. This laid the foundation for their joint experiment in 1973 which demonstrated the feasibility of combining and replicating genetic information from different species. Their experiment involved inserted a gene for frog ribosomal RNA into bacterial cells which then expressed the gene. Three patents were taken out on their technique. These paved the way to the rise of new start-up biotechnology companies, founded on the back of the promise of genetic engineering for generating new therapeutic products. 1935-06-30T00:00:00+0000Mendel co-discovered vitamins A and B, lysine and tryptophan and their role in nutrition.1935-12-09T00:00:00+0000Studies a combination of chemistry, physics, maths and physiology and specialises in biochemistry in his final year.1936-01-01T00:00:00+0000Bishop is an immunologist and microbiologist. He shared the 1989 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Harold E Varmus for discovering the first human oncogene, c-Src. Oncogenes are a type of gene that in certain circumstances, such as exposure to chemical carcinogens, can change a normal cell into a tumour cell. Bishop and Varmus made the discovery while working with the Rouse sarcoma virus known to cause cancer in chickens. 1936-02-22T00:00:00+0000A French bacteriologist, Nicolle determined that lice were the transmission vector of epidemic typhus and worked out the transmission method of tick fever. His work also helped discover the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis. In addition, he developed a vaccine for Malta fever, a disease now called brucellosis.1936-02-28T00:00:00+0000Together with Stanley Cohen, Boyer demonstrated the possibility of producing recombinant DNA in bacteria in 1973. This they did by combining a gene for frog ribosomal RNA with a bacterial plasmid which was then put into a strain of E-coli for expression. Based on this technique Boyer helped found Genentech, the first biotechnology company dedicated to commercialising recombinant DNA. This he did in 1976 in collaboration with Robert Swanson. 1936-07-10T00:00:00+0000Together with Marc Feldmann, Maini helped identify TNF alpha as a key cytokine in the process of rheumatoid arthritis, laying the foundation for the development of monoclonal antibody drugs to treat autoimmune diseases.1936-11-30T00:00:00+0000Klinman was an immunologist who developed the splenic focus assay, a tool that allowed analysis of antibody production derived from single clones of B cells. He used the tool to analyse immune tolerance and immune responses to influenza. In additon he invented the splenic fragment system, a technique that helped generate some of earliest monoclonal antibodies against viral antigens and cancer. 1937-03-23T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
26 Apr 1932Michael Smith was born in Blackpool, United KingdomSmithUniversity of British ColumbiaGene editing, Genetics, Monoclonal antibodies
16 Sep 1932Ronald Ross diedRossUniversity College LiverpoolInfectious diseases
17 Jun 1933Jan Vilcek was born in Bratislava, SlovakiaVilcekNew York University 
9 Oct 1933Peter Mansfield was born in London, United KingdomMansfieldLondon, United Kingdom 
1934 - 1938Antigen-antibody binding hypothesis formulatedMarrackLondon UniversityAntibodies
21 May 1934Bengt I Samuelsson was born in Halmstad, SwedenSamuelsonKarolinska InstituteBiochemistry
4 Jul 1934Marie Curie diedCurie  
17 Oct 1934Santiago Ramon y Cajal diedRamon y CajalMadrid UniversityNeuroscience
10 Dec 1934Howard M Temin was born in Philadelphia PA, USATeminUniversity of WisconsinGenetics, Virology, Oncology
10 Dec 1934Theobald Smith diedSmith Infectious diseases, Bacteriology
1935 - 1936Antibodies shown to be proteinsHeidelberger, Kendall, KabatColumbia UniversityAntibodies
16 Mar 1935John J R Macleod diedMacleodUniversity of AberdeenBiochemistry, Endocrinology
30 Jun 1935Stanley Norman Cohen was born in Perth Amboy, NJ, USACohenStanford UniversityRecombinant DNA
9 Dec 1935Lafayette Benedict Mendel diedMendelYale UniversityNutrition
1936 - 1940Sanger takes degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge UniversitySangerCambridge UniversityDNA Sequencing
Feb 1936John Michael Bishop born in York PA, USABishopUniversity California San FranciscoOncology, Virology
28 Feb 1936Charles Jules Henry Nicolle diedNicolle Vaccine
10 Jul 1936Herbert Boyer was born in Derry, Pennsylvania, USABoyerDerry, Pennsylvania 
30 Nov 1936Ravinder Maini was born in Ludhiana, IndiaMainiLudhiana, India 
23 Mar 1937Norman Klinman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USAKlinmanWistar Institute, University of PennsylvaniaAntibodies, Monoclonal antibodies, Immunology

26 Apr 1932

Michael Smith was born in Blackpool, United Kingdom

16 Sep 1932

Ronald Ross died

17 Jun 1933

Jan Vilcek was born in Bratislava, Slovakia

9 Oct 1933

Peter Mansfield was born in London, United Kingdom

1934 - 1938

Antigen-antibody binding hypothesis formulated

21 May 1934

Bengt I Samuelsson was born in Halmstad, Sweden

4 Jul 1934

Marie Curie died

17 Oct 1934

Santiago Ramon y Cajal died

10 Dec 1934

Howard M Temin was born in Philadelphia PA, USA

10 Dec 1934

Theobald Smith died

1935 - 1936

Antibodies shown to be proteins

16 Mar 1935

John J R Macleod died

30 Jun 1935

Stanley Norman Cohen was born in Perth Amboy, NJ, USA

9 Dec 1935

Lafayette Benedict Mendel died

1936 - 1940

Sanger takes degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University


John Michael Bishop born in York PA, USA

28 Feb 1936

Charles Jules Henry Nicolle died

10 Jul 1936

Herbert Boyer was born in Derry, Pennsylvania, USA

30 Nov 1936

Ravinder Maini was born in Ludhiana, India

23 Mar 1937

Norman Klinman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA