Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Lankester was a zoologist and evolutionary biologist who was one of the first to discover protozoan parasites in the blood of vertebrates. His work contributed to understanding the parasite that causes malaria and the various phases it passes through when in the mosquito and human blood. This laid the foundation for the diagnosis and treatment of malaria. 1847-05-15T00:00:00+0000MacEwen was a Scottish physician who developed a technique to locate brain tumours by observing changes in motor and sensory functions. He performed the first successful intracranial surgery in 1879 on a teenage girl. The operation was conducted based on preoperative observation of twitches on her face and arms. The patient lived for another eight years. An autopsy performed after her death showed no trace of her tumour. 1848-06-22T00:00:00+0000Hertwig was a 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. 1849-04-21T00:00:00+0000Roux was a German zoologist who helped pioneer experimental embryology. Using frogs., his work consisted of interfering with developing embryos to observe how the structure of organs and tissues were affected. Roux was also instrumental in the development of the principle of tissue culture through his experiments with chick embryos in 1885. 1850-06-09T00:00:00+0000Richet was a physiologist who shared the 1913 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of anaphylaxis, an acute allergic reaction where extremely small doses of an allergen may cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock. This phenomenon he discovered with Paul Portier after they attempted to immunise dogs against a toxin from sea anemones. Some of these dogs developed respiratory distress and died when injected with a second dose of the toxin. Richet and Portier hypothesised this was due to reduced immunity and increased sensitivity to the toxin. Their finding provided the first evidence that the immune system could damage as well as provide protection against disease. Richet went on to help elucidate the cause of hay fever, asthma and other allergic reactions to foreign substances. 1850-08-26T00:00:00+0000Reed was an American army pathologist and bacteriologist who helped to confirm the work of Carlos Finlay that yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito infected with Stegomyia fasciata (later renamed Aedes aegypti). This he did by leading experiments in Cuba between 1899 and 1900. The experiments involved the deliberate infection of human volunteers, including medical personnel, some of whom died. Reed's experiments put an end to the traditional thinking that yellow fever was transmitted by clothing and bedding soiled by the bodily fluids and excrement of yellow fever patients. The work paved the way to measures to control the mosquito population to prevent the spread of yellow fever. 1851-09-13T00:00:00+0000Ramon y Cahal was a 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. 1852-05-01T00:00:00+0000Petri was a microbiologist who is credited with inventing the petri dish, a shallow glass cylinder used to culture cells and bacteria. This he developed in the late 1870s while working as an assistant to Robert Koch. Petri developed the dish to help culture bacteria on agar plates. He subsequently developed the technique of agar culture to clone bacterial colonies derived from single cells. His work helped improve the process of identifying bacteria responsible for disease. 1852-05-31T00:00:00+0000Loeffler was a bacteriologist who is credited with the first isolation of the bacillus (Corynebacterium diphtheriae) that causes diphtheria. This he did in 1884. It was always present in the mucous membranes of the larynx and trachea of patients with diphtheria. Loeffler manged to culture the organism and reproduce it in susceptible animals. Later on he demonstrated that some animals had immunity to the disease, which he believed was linked to a toxin produced by the bacillus. This laid the foundation for the development of antitoxin therapy against diphtheria. 1852-06-24T00:00:00+0000Fischer was a German chemist who opened up the era of biochemistry by clarifying the structure of sugars and enzymes and elaborating how they were formed. In 1902 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for demonstrating the structure of biological compounds, including sugars proteins and purines. He synthesised many natural occurring molecules for the first time, including glucose, caffeine, and uric acid. In addition, he managed to synthesis several amino acids and created small chains of them as precursors to protein formation. Fisher is also associated with the idea of the 'lock and key' mechanism which is used to explain how enzymes catalyse certain reactions and not others.1852-10-09T00:00:00+0000Kitasato was a Japanese physician and bacteriologist who helped to discover the infectious agent of bubonic plague, Pasteurella pestis (now called Yersinia pestis). The discovery was made while investigating an epidemic in Hong Kong in 1894. Kitasato was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1901 based on his contributions to the discovery of the diphtheria antitoxin serum, which was used to prevent diphtheria. 1853-01-29T00:00:00+0000Gram was a bacteriologist who developed a method to quickly identify two different large groups of bacteria. His method is now routinely used for histology and microbiology. Bacteria that absorb the stain which turn purple are known as Gram positive bacteria, and those that do not absorb the stain, which might be coloured pink with a counterstain, are labelled Gram negative. 1853-09-13T00:00:00+0000Kossel was a German biochemist who was a key pioneer in the field of genetics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1910 for having isolated and described the five organic compounds present in nucleic acid. The compounds he isolated were adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, and uracil. These are key to the formation of DNA and RNA. Kossel's work also laid the foundation for determining the composition of protein and its polypetides. 1853-09-16T00:00:00+0000Émile Roux was a physician, bacteriologist and immunologist who made his name working on diphtheria, a once fatal disease. In 1883 he helped to show that the disease was caused by a toxin secreted by the diphtheria bacillus. Based on this discovery and subsequent work by others that animals produce antibodies against the diphtheria toxin, Roux managed to develop a serum therapy to combat the disease. The treatment was proven effective in a trial conducted at the Hopital des Enfants-Malades with 300 diseased children.1853-11-17T00:00:00+0000Ehrlich played a significant role in the development of the first serum therapy to combat diphtheria in the 1890s and devised methods for standardising therapeutic serums. In addition he invented staining techniques for distinguishing different types of blood cells which laid the foundation for diagnosing blood disorders. In 1900 he popularised the 'magic bullet' concept which promoted the idea of developing a drug capable of killing specific disease-causing microbes, like bacteria, without harming the body itself. Nine years later he succeeded in creating Salvasan, the first drug created to target a specific pathogen and the first effective medical treatment for syphilis. Ehrlich also coined the term 'antibody' and transformed understandings of how the immune system worked. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine on the back of this work. Despite his groundbreaking research, Ehrlich struggled to get a permanent position because of his Jewish background. 1854-03-14T00:00:00+0000Behring was a military physician who made many important contributions to the understanding of immunity. In 1890 he discovered a diphtheria toxin. This laid the basis for the development of the first drug against diphtheria. Behring went on to develop a serum therapy against tetanus. His work laid the foundation for the development of many other serum therapies, which by the 1930s had become a standard treatment for many infectious diseases. He shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1901 for the development of serum therapies.1854-03-15T00:00:00+0000Takamine was the first to isolate and purify the hormone adrenalin from animal glands. It was the first effective bronchodilator for asthma. This he achieved in 1901 while working for the division of chemistry at the Department of Agriculture and Commerce in Japan. It was the first pure hormone isolated from a natural source.1854-11-03T00:00:00+0000The bacterium was found in the human colon by German paediatrician Theodor Escherich while searching for the cause of fatal intestinal diseases in children. Inititally it was called Bacterium coli, but was later renamed Escherichia coli in honour of its discoverer. The bacterium would go on to become the most studied living organism and a major tool for biotechnology.1855-01-01T00:00:00+0000He eventually proved they are living organisms.1855-01-01T00:00:00+0000Neisser was a Polish-German physician who specicalised in dermatology and venereal diseases. In 1878 he demonstrated that the causative agent of gonorrhoea was a small bacterium which was named in his honour (Neisseria gonorrhoeae). He made the discovery while he was still a student assistant. An active public health campaigner, Neisser pioneered the rational treatment of gonorrhoea, which involved the constant checking-up of the effect of treatment by microscopical examination. Neisser was also the first to propose the use of potargol to treat gonorrhoea and campaigned against the indiscriminate use of astringents in the treatment of the disease.1855-01-22T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
15 May 1847Edwin R Lankester was born in London, UKLankesterUniversity College London, Oxford University 
22 Jun 1848William MacEwen was bornMacEwenUniversity of GlasgowNeuroscience
21 Apr 1849Oskar Hertwig was born in Friedberg, GermanyHertwigFriedberg, GermanyReproduction, Genetics
9 Jun 1850Wilhelm Roux was born in in Jena, GermanyRouxUniversity of HalleEmbryology
26 Aug 1850Charles R Richet was born in Paris, FranceRichetSorbonne UniversityImmunology
13 Sep 1851Walter Reed born in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA Reed George Washington University School of MedicineInfectious diseases
1 May 1852Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born in Petilla de Arago, SpainRamon y CajalMadrid UniversityNeuroscience
31 May 1852Richard Julius Petri was bornPetriImperial Health OfficeBacteriology
24 Jun 1852Friedrich A J Loeffler was born in Frankfurt, GermanyLoefflerFriedrich Wilhelm Institute, University of GreifswaldBacteriology
9 Oct 1852Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Prussia (now Germany)FischerUniversity of BerlinBiochemistry
29 Jan 1853Shibasaburo Kitasato was born in Oguni, Kumamoto, Japan KitasatoUniversity of Berlin, Kitsato InstituteImmunology
13 Sep 1853Hans C J Gram was born in Copenhagen, DenmarkGramUniversity of CopenhagenBacteriology
16 Sep 1853Albrecht Kossel was born in Rostock, Mecklenburg (now Germany)KosselUniversity of HeidelbergGenetics
17 Nov 1853Pierre Paul Émile Roux was born in Confolens, FranceEmile RouxPasteur InstituteBacteriology, Infectious diseases, Immunology
14 Mar 1854Paul Ehrlich was born in Strehlen (now Strzelin), Prussia (now Poland)EhrlichStrehlen, PrussiaImmunology, Bacteriology, Antibodies
15 Mar 1854Emil Adolf von Behring was born in Hansdorf, Prussia (now Poland)von BehringHansdorf, Prussia (now Poland)Antibodies
3 Nov 1854Jokichi Takamine was born in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, JapanTakamineTakaoka, Toyama Prefecture, JapanBiochemistry
1855Escherichia coli bacterium first discoveredEscherich  
1855Louis Pasteur began working on yeastPasteur  
22 Jan 1855Albert L S Neisser born in Schweidnitz, Prussia (now Poland)NeisserUniversity of BreslauBacteriology, Infectious diseases

15 May 1847

Edwin R Lankester was born in London, UK

22 Jun 1848

William MacEwen was born

21 Apr 1849

Oskar Hertwig was born in Friedberg, Germany

9 Jun 1850

Wilhelm Roux was born in in Jena, Germany

26 Aug 1850

Charles R Richet was born in Paris, France

13 Sep 1851

Walter Reed born in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA

1 May 1852

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born in Petilla de Arago, Spain

31 May 1852

Richard Julius Petri was born

24 Jun 1852

Friedrich A J Loeffler was born in Frankfurt, Germany

9 Oct 1852

Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Prussia (now Germany)

29 Jan 1853

Shibasaburo Kitasato was born in Oguni, Kumamoto, Japan

13 Sep 1853

Hans C J Gram was born in Copenhagen, Denmark

16 Sep 1853

Albrecht Kossel was born in Rostock, Mecklenburg (now Germany)

17 Nov 1853

Pierre Paul Émile Roux was born in Confolens, France

14 Mar 1854

Paul Ehrlich was born in Strehlen (now Strzelin), Prussia (now Poland)

15 Mar 1854

Emil Adolf von Behring was born in Hansdorf, Prussia (now Poland)

3 Nov 1854

Jokichi Takamine was born in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Japan


Escherichia coli bacterium first discovered


Louis Pasteur began working on yeast

22 Jan 1855

Albert L S Neisser born in Schweidnitz, Prussia (now Poland)

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