Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Drew 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. 1950-04-01T00:00:00+0000Henry Kunkel, an American immunologist, while studying the blood of patients with myeloma (a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow) unexpectedly discovers myeloma proteins to resemble normal antibodies.1951-01-01T00:00:00+0000Conceived by Egon Lorenz, the experiment was designed to test whether - like the spleen - marrow can regenerate the blood system. This experiment sets the foundation for bone marrow transplantation. 1951-01-01T00:00:00+0000A pioneer of protein engineering, Winter invented techniques to both humanise and later to make fully human antibodies for therapeutic uses. Today his technology is used in over two-thirds of antibody drugs on the market, including Humira, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, which in 2012 was listed as the top selling drug in the world. He is also the founder of three biotechnology companies: Cambridge Antibody Technology, Domantis and Bicycle Therapeutics. 1951-03-31T00:00:00+0000G.R. Wyatt, 'Recognition and estimation of 5-methylcytosine in nucleic acids', Biochem J, 48/5 (1951), 581-4.1951-05-01T00:00:00+0000Marshall shared the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine for helping to discover the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.1951-09-30T00:00:00+0000Meyerhof was a physician and biochemist who was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery of the 'fixed relationship between the consumption of oxygen and the metabolism of lactic acid in the muscle.' In 1938 he was forced to to flee Nazi Germany because of his Jewish background which entailed leaving the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medicine where he was a director from 1929. He was appointed a guest professor at the University of Pennsylvania. 1951-10-06T00:00:00+0000Maurice Wilkins, New Zealand-born English physicist and molecular biologist, using X-ray analyses indicate DNA has a regularly repeating helical structure. This information together with research then being conducted by Rosalind Franklin inspires James Watson and Francis Crick to start building a molecular model of DNA.1951-11-01T00:00:00+0000Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase, American geneticists, demonstrate that when bacteriophages, which are composed of DNA and protein, infect bacteria, their DNA enters the host bacterial cell, but most of their protein does not. This confirms that DNA is the genetic material, refuting a long-held assumption that proteins carried the information for inheritance.1952-01-01T00:00:00+0000Noted by Salvador Luria and his graduate student Mary Human while conducting experiments into the break-up of DNA in phage-infected bateria.1952-01-01T00:00:00+00001952-01-01T00:00:00+0000Created by George Gey from cervical cells taken without consent from Henrietta Lacks who died from cervical cancer on 4 October 1951. The cells taken from Lacks were the first human cells grown in the laboratory that did not die after a few cell divisions. The cell line proved enormously beneficial for medical and biological research. It was first published in WF Scherer, JT Syverton, GO Gey, 'Studies on the propagation in vitro of poliomyelitis viruses. IV. Viral multiplication in a stable strain of human malignant epithelial cells (strain HeLa) derived from an epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix', Journal Experimental Medicine, 97/5 (1953), 695–710.1952-01-01T00:00:00+0000Known as Photo 51, this image was shown, without Franklin's permission, to James Watson, who, together with Francis Crick, used it to develop the double-helix model of DNA.1952-01-03T00:00:00+0000Tsien won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP, which is a major tool in research. 1952-02-01T00:00:00+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. 1952-03-04T00:00:00+0000Szotak helped discover how chromosomes are protected by telomeres, a section of DNA at the end of a chromosome. 1952-11-09T00:00:00+0000A Russian chemist, Weizmann developed the method to produce acetone, a vital component for explosives, using bacteria and fermentation during World War I. He later modified his technique to produce other organic compounds using bacteria during fermentation. Weismann went on to be the first President of Israel.1952-11-09T00:00:00+0000Peter Medawar, Brazilian-British biologist, Rupert Billingham, British-American scientist, and Leslie Brent, German-British immunologist, confirm the theory of immune tolerance through skin gafting experiments with mice. The work helped shift immunologists focus away from efforts to manage the fully developed immune mechanism towards altering the immunity mechanism itself, such the immune suppression to prevent the body's rejection of organ transplants.1953-01-01T00:00:00+0000Hochmair-Desoyer is an electrical engineer who helped create the world's first micro-electric multi-channel cochlear implant. Developed in 1977 the implant enables the user to not only hear sounds but also to understand speech. Since 2000 she has co-founded a number of medical device companies working to help with hearing loss. In 2013 she was awarded the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. 1953-01-01T00:00:00+0000The molecular biologists James Watson, American-born, and Francis Crick, British born, publish in Nature the molecular structure model of DNA: a double helix in which A always pairs with T, and C always with G. This model is inspired by Photo 51 taken by Franklin. Calculations from the photograph provided crucial parameters for the size of the helix and its structure, all of which were critical for the Watson and Crick's molecular modelling work. The final model represents a correction of an earlier model in the light of comments by Franklin the hydrophilic backbones should not go at the centre of the molecule, as Watson and Crick had originally assumed, but go on the outside of the molecule where they could interact with water. 1953-04-01T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
1 Apr 1950Charles R Drew diedDrewHoward UniversityTransfusion
1951Myeloma cells found to resemble normal antibodiesKunkelRockefeller UniversityAntibodies
1951Transfer of marrow into lethally irradiated mice shows that marrow, like spleen, is regenerativeLorenz, Congdon, UphoffNational Cancer InstituteStem cells
31 Mar 1951Gregory Winter was born in EnglandWinterUnited KingdomMonoclonal antibodies
May 19515-methcytosine isolated in nucleic acids for the first timeWyatt Epigenetics
30 Sep 1951Barry J Marshall was born in Kalgoorlie, AustraliaMarshallUniversity of Western AustraliaBacteriology
6 Oct 1951Otto F Meyerhof diedMeyerhofKiel University, University of PennsylvaniaMetabolism
Nov 1951Purified DNA and DNA in cells shown to have helical structureWilkinsKings College LondonDNA
1952Bacteriophage experiments show DNA and not proteins to be genetic materialHershey, ChaseCarnegie Institution for ScienceDNA
1952First observation of the modification of viruses by bacteriaLuria, HumanUniversity of IllinoisRestriction enzymes, Recombinant DNA, DNA Sequencing
1952Stanley Plotkin graduated from New York UniversityPlotkinWistar Institute 
1952First immortal human cell line developedGey, Lacks  
Jan 1952X-ray diffraction image, produced by Rosalind Franklin, shows DNA to have regularly repeating helical structureFranklinKings College LondonDNA
1 Feb 1952Roger Y Tsien was born in New York, USATsienUniversity of California San DiegoAnalytical chemistry, Biochemistry
4 Mar 1952Charles S Sherrington diedSherrington Neuroscience
9 Nov 1952Jack Szostak was born in London, United KingdomSzotakHarvard UniversityGenetics
9 Nov 1952Chaim Azriel Weizmann diedWeizmann  
1953Immune tolerance theory proved in experimentsMedawar, Billingham, BrentUniversity College LondonAntibodies
1 Jan 1953Ingeborg Hochmair-Desoyer was born in Vienna, AustriaHochmair-DesoyerVienna, Austria 
Apr 1953DNA double-helix structure announcedCrick, WatsonCavendish LaboratoryDNA

1 Apr 1950

Charles R Drew died


Myeloma cells found to resemble normal antibodies


Transfer of marrow into lethally irradiated mice shows that marrow, like spleen, is regenerative

31 Mar 1951

Gregory Winter was born in England

May 1951

5-methcytosine isolated in nucleic acids for the first time

30 Sep 1951

Barry J Marshall was born in Kalgoorlie, Australia

6 Oct 1951

Otto F Meyerhof died

Nov 1951

Purified DNA and DNA in cells shown to have helical structure


Bacteriophage experiments show DNA and not proteins to be genetic material


First observation of the modification of viruses by bacteria


Stanley Plotkin graduated from New York University


First immortal human cell line developed

Jan 1952

X-ray diffraction image, produced by Rosalind Franklin, shows DNA to have regularly repeating helical structure

1 Feb 1952

Roger Y Tsien was born in New York, USA

4 Mar 1952

Charles S Sherrington died

9 Nov 1952

Jack Szostak was born in London, United Kingdom

9 Nov 1952

Chaim Azriel Weizmann died


Immune tolerance theory proved in experiments

1 Jan 1953

Ingeborg Hochmair-Desoyer was born in Vienna, Austria

Apr 1953

DNA double-helix structure announced