Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Kitasato 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+0000Magendie is considered a major founder of experimental physiology. He was one of the first to demonstrate the difference between sensory and motor nerves in the spinal cord. His investigations of the effects of drugs on different parts of the body led to the introduction of strychnine and morphine into medical practice. Magendie was also one of the first to observe anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially systemic allergic reaction, which he noticed after doing a second injection of a foreign protein into a rabbit.1855-10-07T00:00:00+0000Ross was the son of a General in the British Army who trained 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. 1857-05-13T00:00:00+0000Hyde was a physiologist who is credited with the invention of the intracellular micropippette electrode. It provided the first means to record electrical activity within a cell without destroying the cellular wall. The electrode was powerful enough to stimulate tissue chemically or electronically and small enough to inject or remove tissue from a cell. She devised the electrode as part of her research into animal cardiac movement, circulation, respiration, and nervous systems. Overall her device revolutionised neurophysiology and the study of contractile nerve tissue. Hyde was the first woman to graduate from the University or Hedidelberg and to do research at Harvard Medical School. She was also the first woman to be elected to the American Physiology Society. 1857-09-08T00:00:00+0000Sherrington was a neurophysiologist, histologist, bacteriologist, and a pathologist who conducted research into the function of neurons. He shared the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for helping to show that reflexes need integrated activation. Prior to this reflexes were assumed to occur as an isolated activity within a reflex arc. Sherrington coined the terms synapse and neuron to describe parts of the nerve cell that receive or transmit nervous impulses between cells. 1857-11-27T00:00:00+0000Minkowski was a physiologist and pathologist who put forward the idea that diabetes was caused by the suppression of pancreatic substances. This was based on some experiments he carried out on dogs in 1898, which involved the surgical removal of the pancreas from the dogs and then testing their urine for glucose. His finding suggested that the pancreas contained regulators that could control blood sugar. Minkowski's work laid the foundation for the subsequent discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes. 1858-01-13T00:00:00+0000Snow was an English physician who provided the first conclusive evidence that diseases like cholera and bubonic plague were caused by germs and not by pollution or bad air (miasma). In 1854 he was able to pinpoint the source of an outbreak of cholera in Soho, London, to a particular water pump. The outbreak was brought to an end after the pump's handle was removed. This work prompted major changes in the water and waste systems in London, which were soon followed in other cities, leading to a significant improvement in public health. Snow also made major extensive improvements to anaesthesia and the use of chloroform for use in childbirth. 1858-06-16T00:00:00+0000Eijkman was a physician and physiologist who helped demonstrate that a poor diet contributes to beriberi, a disease of the peripheral nerves. He first noticed the link in 1897 when by mistake his laboratory chickens were fed a diet of polished, rather than unpolished, rice. Ill-health prevented Eijkman from pinpointing which missing dietary component was important. It was subsequently found that a deficiency of vitamin B1, thiamine, contributed to beriberi. Eijkman shared the Nobel Prize in 1929 for his work in this field. 1858-08-11T00:00:00+0000Charles Darwin, English naturalist, publishes his theory of natural selection which establishes that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry.1859-01-01T00:00:00+0000Loeb was a physiologist and biologist who demonstrated the possibility of reproduction without male fertilisation, parthenogenesis, in sea urchin eggs. He found it was possible to stimulate embryonic development in the eggs of sea urchins without sperm by making slight chemical changes to the water where the eggs were kept. This he discovered while conducting experiments at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. His results were published in 'Activation of the unfertilized egg by ultra-violet rays', Science, 40/1036 (1914), 680-1. While Loeb was nominated for the Nobel Prize many times he never won. 1859-04-07T00:00:00+0000Together with Daniel E Salmon, Smith provided the first proof that killed bacteria could be used to induce immunity in experimental animals, in 1886. This laid the foundation for the subsequent development of protective immunisation in humans against bacterial diseases like typhoid and cholera. Smith also pioneered the use of the fermentation tube to study bacterial physiology and classification. Using this technique he managed to identify the causes of several infectious parasitic diseases, including Texas Cattle Fever caused by ticks. His delineation of the tick's life-cycle paved the way to controlling the disease by dipping cattle to kill the ticks. Smith's revelation that insects could transmit disease was a major breakthrough and laid the foundation for the investigation of yellow fever and malaria. Smith established the first department of bacteriology at a medical school in the United States - at Columbian University (now George Washington University). 1859-07-31T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
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
7 Oct 1855Francois Magendie diedMagendieCollege of FrancePhysiology, Neuroscience
13 May 1857Ronald Ross was born in Almora, IndiaRoss Liverpool School of Tropical MedicineInfectious diseases
8 Sep 1857Ida H Hyde was born in Davenport, Iowa, USAHydeHeidelberg University, University of Kansas, University of Berne, Radcliffe CollegeCell, Neurology
27 Nov 1857Charles S Sherrington was born in London, UKSherringtonUniversity of London, University of Liverpool, Oxford UniversityNeuroscience
13 Jan 1858Oskar Minkowski was born in Aleksotas, Russian Empire (now Lithuania)MinkowskiUniversity of StrasbourgEndocrinology
16 Jun 1858John Snow diedSnow  
11 Aug 1858Christiaan Eijkman was born in Nijkerk, the NetherlandsEijkmanUtrecht UniversityNutrition
1859Darwin publishes 'On the Origin of Species'Darwin Evolution
7 Apr 1859Jacques Loeb was born in Mayen, Germany LoebRockefeller UniversityReproduction
31 Jul 1859Theobald Smith was born in Albany, New York, USASmithBureau of Animal Industry, George Washington UniversityInfectious diseases, Bacteriology

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)

7 Oct 1855

Francois Magendie died

13 May 1857

Ronald Ross was born in Almora, India

8 Sep 1857

Ida H Hyde was born in Davenport, Iowa, USA

27 Nov 1857

Charles S Sherrington was born in London, UK

13 Jan 1858

Oskar Minkowski was born in Aleksotas, Russian Empire (now Lithuania)

16 Jun 1858

John Snow died

11 Aug 1858

Christiaan Eijkman was born in Nijkerk, the Netherlands


Darwin publishes 'On the Origin of Species'

7 Apr 1859

Jacques Loeb was born in Mayen, Germany

31 Jul 1859

Theobald Smith was born in Albany, New York, USA

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