Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Freidrich Miescher, Swiss physician and biologist, performing experiments on the chemical composition of white blood cells (leucocytes) isolates phosphate-rich chemicals from the nuclei of cells. Originally calling this substance nuclein, Miescher's discovery paved the way for the identification of what we today call nucleic acids and the understanding of DNA as the carrier of inheritance. 1869-01-01T00:00:00+0000A Russian-American biochemist, Levene discovered nucleic acids came in two forms: DNA and RNA. He also idenfitied the components of DNA: adenine, guanine, thymine, cytosine, deoxyribose and a phosphate group and showed that these components were linked together by nucleotides, phosphate-sugar base units. Born to Jewish parents, Levene emigrated to the US in 1893 as a result of anti-semitic progroms. He was appointed the head of the biochemical laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in 1905 where he spent the rest of his career. 1869-02-25T00:00:00+0000Cushing was a neurosurgeon who was a major pioneer of brain surgery. He is best known for his work on the pituitary gland and for the first to describe Cushing disease, a condition caused by the body producing too much of a hormone called cortisol, often caused by a tumour or excess growth in the pituitary gland. This leads to swelling in the trunk and face. Cushing also identified several varieties of brain tumours and made great advances in their treatment. Many of the operating procedures and techniques now used in surgery of the brain also come from him.1869-04-08T00:00:00+0000Spemann was an experimental embryologist. He won the 1935 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering embryonic induction, the process that directs parts of an embryo to develop groups of cells into particular tissues and organs. This was based on work he carried out on large eggs of amphibians in the 1920s, which revealed the existence of an area in the embryo that was responsible for producing different parts of the embryo. Parts of the head are produced by the anterior parts of the area, and parts of the tail by the posterior parts. In 1928 he performed the first successful somatic cell nuclear transfer in amphibian embryos. It marked the first move towards cloning. 1869-06-27T00:00:00+0000Mallon was the first person to be identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever. Working as a cook in New York City, she was thought to have infected fifty-one people with the disease, and three deaths. Her case provided the first evidence that a person could be a carrier of typhoid without showing any outward signs of being sick. Refusing to abandon her work as a cook, Mallon was forced into quarantine by the public health authorities and by the time she died had spent three decades in isolation. Typhoid carriers can now be treated with antibiotics and the disease can be prevented through vaccination. 1869-09-23T00:00:00+0000McClung was a zoologist. He is best known for identifying the role of chromosomes in determining the sex of a species. This he did through a series of experiments with insects between 1901 and 1902. Based on his findings he hypothesised that the accessory chromosome (now known as chromosome X) could be the nuclear element that determined sex. It was the first time a scientist suggested that a given chromosome carried a set of hereditary traits. 1870-04-05T00:00:00+0000Bordet was a physician, immunologist and microbiologist who won the 1919 Nobel Prize for his discovery of two components in the blood - antibodies and complement proteins. The two components help destroy invading bacteria by rupturing the cell walls of the bacteria, a process known as bacteriolysis. Bordet made the discovery in 1895. Three years later Bordet observed that red blood cells from one animal species injected into another get destroyed by haemolysis - a process analogous to bacteriolysis. His finding led to the development of diagnostic tests that hunt for antibodies in the blood to detect infectious agents. The first one was for typhoid, developed in 1896.1870-06-13T00:00:00+0000Schaudinn was a zoologist and microbiologist who helped to discover the bacterial cause of syphilis, in 1905. He also identified the unicellular parasite Entamoeba histolytica, the amoeba that causes dysentery and confirmed hook worm infections are contracted through skin on the feet. This he established through experiments with monkeys. Schuadinn also made important discoveries relating to sleeping sickness and malaria. He died at the age of 34 after a surgical operation to remove a gastrointestinal abscess, probably caused by an amoebian infection he voluntarily acquired while researching amoebas.1871-09-19T00:00:00+0000Cannon was a neurologist and physiologist who is renowned for being the first to use X rays in physiological studies. He also advanced understandings about homeostasis, the process by which the body maintains its temperature. In 1915 he coined the term 'flight or fight response' to describe the physiological reaction that takes place in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival. He also developed methods for storing blood and in 1931 discovered sympathin, an adrenaline-like substance released at the tips of certain nerve ends. 1871-10-19T00:00:00+0000Sabin was a pioneering medical scientist who was the first woman to be appointed a full professor at Johns Hopkins University. She was also the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences and to head up a department at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. For many years she was involved in the investigation of the lymphatic system. She demonstrated that lymphatic vessels develop from a special layer of cells in certain fetal veins. She also made many discoveries relating to the origin and development of blood vessels and blood cells. 1871-11-09T00:00:00+0000Barnes, the son of a butcher, was a chemist and businessman who in 1902, together with Herman Hille, devised the formula for Argyrol, a topical antimicrobial agent that contains silver and a protein extracted from wheat. The two scientists set up the company Barnes and Hille to market the compound, which they developed while employed by the pharmaceutical company H. K. Mulford. Promoted for use in a wide range of products, including eye-drops, nasal sprays and suppositories for conditions affecting the genitourinary tract, Argyrol gained widespread popularity around the world. By 1907 Argyrol sales had reached $250,000 and Barnes had become a millionaire. Argyrol dominated the topical ophthalmic antimicrobial market until the rise of sulphonamides in the 1930s. 1872-01-02T00:00:00+0000Mendel was a biochemist who helped discover vitamins A and B, lysine and tryptophan and their role in nutrition. Vitamin A was discovered in 1913 in butter fat. Diets deficient in vitamin A were shown to cause xerophthalmia, a condition in which the eye fails to produce tears. Water-soluble vitamin B was also found in milk in 1913.1872-02-05T00:00:00+0000Tsvet was a botanist who is credited with the invention of adsorption chromatography. He first described the method in 1901. His technique involved using ether and alcohol to extract plant pigments from leaves and then passing the resulting solution through a column of calcium carbonate. The advantage of the process was that it separated pigments into different coloured bands. By using the process Tsvet was able to demonstrate that plants had two forms of chlorophyll and eight additional pigments. Chromatography is now an important laboratory technique for the separation of a mixture.1872-05-14T00:00:00+0000Duggar was an American botanist who is best known for his discovery of chlortetracycline (Aureomycin), the first of a number of tetracycline antibiotics. In 1943, at the age of 74, he managed to isolate the organism that produced the antibiotic Auremycin while experimenting with field soil samples. Introduced into the market in 1948, Auremycin paved the way to the development of new generations of antibiotics. Known nationally as an exceptional plant pathologist, Duggar wrote three key horticulture textbooks and taught at several well-respected institutions including Harvard, Radcliffe, and Cornell universities.1872-09-01T00:00:00+0000Euler-Chelpin was a German-born Swedish biochemist who shared the Nobel Prize in 1929 for working out the role of enzymes in the fermentation of sugar. His work laid the foundation for understanding the important processes that take place in the muscles for supplying energy. He also helped show that colouring agents like betacaronoids in vegetables get transformed into vitamin A in the body. 1873-02-15T00:00:00+0000d'Herelle was a microbiologist who co-discovered bacteriophages (phages), viruses that infect bacteria that are now major tools in biotechnology. He isolated the first phage from chicken faeces in 1919. Following this, he successfully treated chickens infected with typhus with the phage and in August 1919 cured a patient with dysentery using the same method. This laid the basis for the development of phage therapy. 1873-04-25T00:00:00+0000Berger was a psychiatrist and neurologist who developed the first electroencephalogram (EEG) in 1924 for recording brain wave patterns. His technique involved the insertion of silver wires under the patient's scalp, one at the front and one at the back of the head. Berger's innovation was a historic breakthrough, providing an important neurological and psychological tool. Using the EEG Berger was the first to describe different waves or rhythms in the normal and abnormal brain. Many of his German peers, however, did not recognise the significance of his work. Despite gaining international recognition, the Nazi regime forced Berger into early retirement at the age of 65 and banned him from any further work on the EEG. 1873-05-21T00:00:00+0000Loewi was a pharmacologist and physician. He is credited with the discovery of the first neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, in the brain. His work provided the first evidence that chemicals were involved in the transmission of impulses between nerve cells and from neurons to the responsive organ. He established this through investigations of the frog. Loewi was awarded the 1936 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work. 1873-06-03T00:00:00+0000Carrel was a surgeon and biologist. Inspired by lessons he took from from an embroideress, he developed new techniques for suturing blood vessels that minimised damage to the vascular wall. He was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of 'his work on vascular structure and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs'. During World War I he helped develop a new method for treating wounds based on chlorine, which was a major advance in the care of traumatic wounds. In the 1930s he helped create a glass perfusion pump, a forerunner to the artificial heart. His reputation later became marred in controversy because of his strong support for Eugenic policies of sterilisation for those with families with hereditary diseases and a criminal history as well euthanasia for the mentally defective. In 1944 he was singled out for collaboration with the Nazis under the Vichy government, but he died before going on trial. 1873-06-28T00:00:00+0000Erlanger was a physiologist who shared the 1944 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Herbert Graasser for working out the actions of nerve fibers. This they achieved by modifying a Western Electric oscilloscope to run at low voltages. The innovation enabled them to discover that neurons come in many forms and transmit impulses at different rates. 1874-01-05T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
1869Discovery of DNAMiescher University of TubingenDNA
25 Feb 1869Phoebus Levene was born in Sagor, Russia (now Zagare, Lithuania)LeveneRockefeller UniversityDNA
8 Apr 1869Harvey W Cushing was born in Cleveland, Ohio, USACushingJohns Hopkins UniversitySurgery, Endocrinology, Neuroscience
27 Jun 1869Hans Spemann born in Stuttgart, Württemberg (now Germany)Spemann University of WurzburgEmbryology
23 Sep 1869Mary Mallon, the patient known as Typhoid Mary, was born in Cookstown, Country Tyrone, IrelandMallon Infectious diseases
5 Apr 1870Clarence E McClung was born in Clayton, California, USAMcClungUniversity of PennsylvaniaGenetics
13 Jun 1870Jules Bordet was born in Soignies, BelgiumBordetPasteur InstituteAntibodies, Immunology, Diagnostics
19 Sep 1871Fritz R Schaudinn was bornSchaudinnCharite – Universitatsmedizin BerlinBacteriology, Infectious diseases
19 Oct 1871Walter B Cannon was born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, USACannonHarvard Medical SchoolPhysiology
9 Nov 1871Florence R SabinFlorence Sabin  
2 Jan 1872Albert C. Barnes was born in Philadelphia, PA, USABarnes Antibacterial agents
5 Feb 1872Lafayette Benedict Mendel was born in Dehli, NY, USMendelYale UniversityNutrition
14 May 1872Mikhail Tsvet was born in Asti, ItalyTsvetUniversity of Warsaw, Warsaw Technical UniversityBiochemistry, Chromatography
1 Sep 1872Benjamin M Duggar was born in Gallion, Hale County, Alabama, USADuggarUniversity of Wisconsin, Lederle LaboratoriesAntibacterial agents
15 Feb 1873Hans von Euler-Chelpin was born in Augsburg, GermanyEuler-ChelpinStockholm UniversityBiochemistry
25 Apr 1873Felix d'Herelle was born in Montreal, Canadad'HerellePasteur InstituteAntibacterial agents, Bacteriophages, Bacteriology, Virology, Phage therapy
21 May 1873Hans Berger was born in Coburg, GermanyBergerCoburg, GermanyNeuroscience
3 Jun 1873Otto Loewi was born in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, GermanyLoewiGraz UniversityNeuroscience
28 Jun 1873Alexis Carrel was born in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, FranceCarrelRockefeller UniversityTransplantation
5 Jan 1874Joseph Erlanger was born in San Francisco CA, USAErlangerWashington University in St LouisNeuroscience


Discovery of DNA

25 Feb 1869

Phoebus Levene was born in Sagor, Russia (now Zagare, Lithuania)

8 Apr 1869

Harvey W Cushing was born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA

27 Jun 1869

Hans Spemann born in Stuttgart, Württemberg (now Germany)

23 Sep 1869

Mary Mallon, the patient known as Typhoid Mary, was born in Cookstown, Country Tyrone, Ireland

5 Apr 1870

Clarence E McClung was born in Clayton, California, USA

13 Jun 1870

Jules Bordet was born in Soignies, Belgium

19 Sep 1871

Fritz R Schaudinn was born

19 Oct 1871

Walter B Cannon was born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, USA

9 Nov 1871

Florence R Sabin

2 Jan 1872

Albert C. Barnes was born in Philadelphia, PA, USA

5 Feb 1872

Lafayette Benedict Mendel was born in Dehli, NY, US

14 May 1872

Mikhail Tsvet was born in Asti, Italy

1 Sep 1872

Benjamin M Duggar was born in Gallion, Hale County, Alabama, USA

15 Feb 1873

Hans von Euler-Chelpin was born in Augsburg, Germany

25 Apr 1873

Felix d'Herelle was born in Montreal, Canada

21 May 1873

Hans Berger was born in Coburg, Germany

3 Jun 1873

Otto Loewi was born in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, Germany

28 Jun 1873

Alexis Carrel was born in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, France

5 Jan 1874

Joseph Erlanger was born in San Francisco CA, USA

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