Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Berger 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+0000Weizmann trained in biochemistry and went on to become an internationally renowned organic chemist who specialised in the development of dyestuffs and aromatics. He developed the method to produce acetone, a vital component for explosives, using bacteria and fermentation during World War I. Weizmann later modified his technique to produce other organic compounds using bacteria during fermentation. In the 1930s Weizmann laid the foundations for the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot, which later became the Weizmann Institute. He went on to become the first President of Israel.1874-11-17T00:00:00+0000Moniz was a neurologist who pioneered the use of cerebral angiography. He developed the procedure on the back of his idea that the ability to visualise blood vessels would provide a more precise means to locate brain tumours. His technique involved the injection of radiopaque dyes into brain arteries and taking X-rays to see if there were any abnormalities. First presented in 1927, Moniz's technique paved the pay to using angiography to detect internal blockages of the artery. He was also awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 for his development of lobotomy for treating certain psychoses. 1874-11-29T00:00:00+0000Dale was a pharmacologist and physiologist who helped identify acetylcholine, the first neurotransmitter discovered, in 1914. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1936 on the basis of this work and uncovering the chemical process by which nerve impulses are transmitted. During the 1940s he drew up a scheme to differentiate neurons according to the neurotransmitters they release. 1875-06-09T00:00:00+0000McCormick was one of the first women to earn a biology degree from MIT. She went on to become a prominent suffragist and philanthropist who played a significant role in the development of the first oral contraceptive pill. She provided $2 million of her own money for the development of the pill, first approved for gynaecological disorders in 1957. McCormick continued to provide funding to improve birth control once the pill was approved. 1875-08-27T00:00:00+0000Duchenne, a French neurologist, was the first to describe several nervous and muscular disorders and develop medical treatments for them. He provided the first accounts of muscular atrophy and paralysis caused by nerve disorders. This included tabes dorsalis, or locomotor ataxia, a muscular atrophy caused by a degeneration of the dorsal columns of the spinal cord and sensory nerve trunks. He also identified the muscular dystrophy now immortalised with his name. The condition , a severe form of progressive muscle weakness, was first observed by Duchenne in 13 young boys. Duchesne also developed the use of deep tissue biopsy for diagnosis and advanced the science of electro-physiology and electro-therapy.1875-09-18T00:00:00+0000John Syer Bristowe, a physician at St Thomas Hospital, used term to denote the 'smallest functional organ or tissue unit' in his book 'A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Medicine (1876). 1876-01-01T00:00:00+0000Macleod was a Scottish physician and biochemist who was a key adviser in the original experiments carried out by Frederick Grant Banting and 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 1923.1876-09-06T00:00:00+0000Noguchi is best remembered for his identification, in 1913, of the causative agent of syphilis (the bacteria Treponema pallidum), and identification of the pathogen responsible for Carrion's disease (a Leishmania parasite). Unable to get a medical position in Japan because of his hand deformity which potential employers feared would put off potential patients, Noguchi spent his life doing laboratory work in the United States. While valued in his lifetime, his reputation took a battering after his death because researchers struggled to reproduce some of his claims, including having discovered the cause of yellow fever, polio and rabies.1876-11-24T00:00:00+0000von Baer was a Prussian-Estonian biologist who helped found the discipline of embryology and developmental biology. Much of his early work was on chick embryology. In 1827 he published the first description of the mammalian egg cell. This was based on his investigations of the structure of the ovum in the dog. He found it to be a small yellow spot floating in follicular fluid. von Baer developed the germ-layer theory which holds that four layers of cells are formed in vertebrate eggs and that each layer always gives rise to certain tissues in the adult organism. He also showed that while the early development of embryo of one species resembles that of other species, it passes through a number of states that become progressively different from each other so that the adult never resembles other species. 1876-11-28T00:00:00+0000Windaus was a German steroid chemist who helped discover 7-dehydrocholesterol, the chemical precursor of vitamin D in 1926. He showed that exposure to sunlight converted the molecule into vitamin D. His finding explained why sunlight was important to preventing rickets, a bone disease that afflicts humans who have a vitamin D deficiency. In 1928 Windaus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on sterols and their relation to vitamins. He also helped work out the chemical steps involved in the transformation of cholesterol to vitamin D31876-12-25T00:00:00+0000Albrecht Kossel, German biochemist, shows that the substance called nuclein consists of a protein and non-protein component.1877-01-01T00:00:00+0000The technique was developed by Robert Koch. His method involved preparing thin layers of bacteria on glass slides and fixing them by gentle heat. 1877-01-01T00:00:00+0000A geneticist and physician, Sutton is famous for putting forward the theory that chromosomes are the carriers of genetic material. He developed the idea in 1902-1903 based on his work with grasshoppers. This research demonstrated there to be matched pairs of maternal and paternal chromosomes and that these separated during meiosis.1877-04-05T00:00:00+0000Aston was a chemist and physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1922 for his identification of isotopes (atoms of the same element that differ in mass). He initially found them in the element neon and later in chlorine and mercury. Aston made the discovery with the help of a mass spectometer which made it possible to separate the isotopes of the chemical elements. Overall Aston discovered 212 naturally occurring isotopes. 1877-09-01T00:00:00+0000Avery was a physician and bacteriologist who provided the first evidence that that genes are made up of DNA. In 1944 he and colleagues conducted a series of experiments in mice using two sets of bacteria, one smooth (virulent) and the other rough (nonvirulent), associated with pneumonia. In the first instance they injected the virulent bacteria into the mouse, which went on to die. Next they injected the non-virulent bacteria into a mouse, which survived. They then heated the virulent bacteria to kill it and injected it into a mouse, which survived. Following this they injected a mixture of heat-killed bacteria with the virulent bacteria into the mouse, which died. Finally they injected a mixture of harmless bacteria with DNA extracted from the heated lethal bacteria in a mouse which died. The experiment showed that the harmless bacteria became lethal when mixed with DNA from the virulent bacteria. 1877-10-21T00:00:00+0000Twort was a bacteriologist who in 1915 discovered the first virus (bacteriophage) that infects bacteria. He found the virus after experiencing difficulties growing the varrina virus, a key component of the smallpox vaccine, on agar plates. Unable to take his work further because of the war, Twort's discovery was largely ignored at the time. Today bacteriophages are a vital tool in biotechnology and underpin the development of phage therapy, a treatment gaining popularity for the treatment of bacterial infections. 1877-10-22T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
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
17 Nov 1874Chaim A Weizmann was born in Motal, Russian Empire (now Belarus)WeizmannGeneva UniversityChemistry
29 Nov 1874Antonio Egas Moniz was born in Avanca, Estarreja, PortugalMonizUniversity of LisbonNeuroscience
9 Jun 1875Henry H Dale was born in London, UKDaleNational Institute for Medical ResearchNeuroscience
27 Aug 1875Katherine McCormick bornMcCormickMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyReproduction
18 Sep 1875Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne diedDuchenne Neuroscience
1876'Organoid' coined for first timeSyer BristoweSt Thomas' HospitalOrgan-on-a-chip
6 Sep 1876John J R Macleod was bornMacleodUniversity of AberdeenBicohemistry, Endocrinology
24 Nov 1876Hideyo Noguchi was bornNoguchiRockefeller InstituteBacteriology, Infectious diseases
28 Nov 1876Karl Ernst von Baer diedvon BaerSt Petersburg Academy of SciencesEmbryology, Reproduction
25 Dec 1876Adolf O R Windaus was born in Berlin, GermanyWindausUniversity of Innsbruck, University of GottingenBiochemistry
1877 - 1880Nucleic acid shown to have protein and non-protein componentsKosselUniversity of TubingenDNA
1877Technique developed for staining and identifying bacteriaKoch Bacteriology
5 Apr 1877Walter Sutton born in Utica, New York, USASuttonColumbia UniversityGenetics
1 Sep 1877Francis W Aston was born in Harborne, UKAstonCambridge University 
21 Oct 1877 Oswald T Avery was born in Halifax, CanadaAveryRockefeller UniversityDNA
22 Oct 1877Frederick W Twort was born in Camberley, Surrey, United KingdomTwortBrown Animal Sanatory InstitutionBacteriophages, Phage therapy

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

17 Nov 1874

Chaim A Weizmann was born in Motal, Russian Empire (now Belarus)

29 Nov 1874

Antonio Egas Moniz was born in Avanca, Estarreja, Portugal

9 Jun 1875

Henry H Dale was born in London, UK

27 Aug 1875

Katherine McCormick born

18 Sep 1875

Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne died


'Organoid' coined for first time

6 Sep 1876

John J R Macleod was born

24 Nov 1876

Hideyo Noguchi was born

28 Nov 1876

Karl Ernst von Baer died

25 Dec 1876

Adolf O R Windaus was born in Berlin, Germany

1877 - 1880

Nucleic acid shown to have protein and non-protein components


Technique developed for staining and identifying bacteria

5 Apr 1877

Walter Sutton born in Utica, New York, USA

1 Sep 1877

Francis W Aston was born in Harborne, UK

21 Oct 1877

Oswald T Avery was born in Halifax, Canada

22 Oct 1877

Frederick W Twort was born in Camberley, Surrey, United Kingdom

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