Timeline of key events in biotechnology

Mouseover the event title for a more detailed description of the event (if available). To search for particular terms in the description of the event enter the term in the box below 'Event' on the table and press 'enter'. Alternatively use the dropdown lists to filter by Person, Place or Science. Click here to clear the filter.

Lamarck was a French biologist who proposed that physical traits were inherited through generations by two forces. The first force was alchemical and second was environmental. He first outlined his theory of evolution in a lecture in 1802. While discredited for many years, Lamark's theory that organisms can acquire physical traits from their environment and pass these on to their offspring has resurfaced with the rise of epigenetics, a science that seeks to understand how chemical modifications to genes and proteins made in one generation are passed on to the next one.1744-10-01T00:00:00+0000Jenner was an English physician who helped pioneer the smallpox vaccine based on his hypothesis that the pus in blisters milkmaids received from cowpox protected them from smallpox. To test out his theory in 1796 he inoculated the 8 year old son of his gardener with pus taken from the cowpox blisters of a local milkmaid. While the boy suffered a fever he showed no sign of infection with smallpox. Jenner then injected the child with smallpox material, a common method of immunisation at the time, known as variolation. Again he showed no sign of infection. Following this, Jenner tested the same technique in 23 further people. Based on his success, in 1840 the British government outlawed variolation and provided Jenner's method for free to prevent smallpox. Jenner's work laid the foundation for immunisation as a method for preventing disease and for contemporary discoveries in immunology. 1749-05-17T00:00:00+0000Capsar's parents were Richard Wistar and Sarah Wyatt. He was the grandson of Caspar Wistar, a German immigrant, Quaker and glassmaker.1761-09-13T00:00:00+0000Lazzaro Spallanzani challenged the theory by demonstrating that micro-organisms did not appear in meat broth sealed inside tightly closed jars that had been boiled for half an hour.1768-01-01T00:00:00+0000The Scottish surgeon and scientist John Hunter advised a cloth merchant with severe hypospadias to collect semen that escaped during coitus in a warmed syringe and the to inject that sample into the vagina. Hunter wrote up the case in 1790.1770-01-01T00:00:00+0000Lazarro Spallanzi found that it was possible to prevent fertilisation of frogs' eggs during the frog mating season by covering the hindquarters of male frogs with watertight waxed taffeta breeches. Following this he demonstrated that it was possible to transform virgin eggs removed from the bellies of female frogs into tadpoles by exposing them to sperm collected from the male sperm when they pseudo-coupled with the females. 1770-01-01T00:00:00+0000Known as the father of modern physiology, von Haller was a Swiss physician who discovered the autonomous nature of the heart and the mechanism of respiration. He also discovered that bile helps digest fats and made many contributions to understanding the distinction between nerve impulses and muscle contractions. During his time he put forward different theories about the nature of embryological development, one of which proposed that the new individual exists within the maternal egg prior to conception. He also put forward an accurate model of fetal growth during gestation, showing that the growth was faster at the beginning than later on. 1777-12-12T00:00:00+0000Lazzaro Spallanzini found that it was possible to remove the fertilising capacity of semen by passing seminal liquid from male frogs through a filter paper and that the material that remained on the filter paper could cause fertilisation. 1779-01-01T00:00:00+0000Caspar had developed an interest in medicine after attending to the wounded in the aftermath of the battle of Germantown. 1783-01-01T00:00:00+0000Serturner was the first person to isolate an active ingredient associated with a medicinal plant or herb. In 1804 he isolated the portion of opium that causes sleep while working as a pharmacy apprentice. He called the compound 'morphium' after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. While it took time for the medicinal properties of morphine to be recognised it is now one of the most important natural compounds for the treating pain and is also used for its calming effects. The discovery of morphine established alkaloid chemistry as a branch of science.1783-06-19T00:00:00+0000The work was carried by Lazzaro Spallanzani, an Italian catholic priest, biologist and physiologist. He managed to perform the technique in a spaniel dog.1785-01-01T00:00:00+0000While in Scotland, Caspar was elected president of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh for two years due to his 'investigation of natural history'. Caspar dedicated his doctoral thesis to Benjamin Franklin and to William Cullen, a famous Scottish physician. 1786-01-01T00:00:00+0000He also succeeded Benjamin Rush as professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia.1787-01-01T00:00:00+0000von Baer was a 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. Based on his research he also showed that while the early development of embryo of one species resembled that of other species, it passed through a number of states that became progressively different from each other so that the adult never resembles other species.1792-02-17T00:00:00+00001793-01-01T00:00:00+0000Edward Jenner, English physician, inoculated a child with material taken from cowpox pustles to protect him from smallpox. 1797-01-01T00:00:00+0000Hodgkin was a prominent pathologist who in 1932 provided the first description of Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer that originates from the a specific type of white blood cells in lymphoma. His work opened up the start of the active involvement of pathologists in the clinical diagnosis and management of disease. He also helped to get histology recognised as a discipline. Hodgkin was one of the earliest promoters of preventative medicine. 1798-08-17T00:00:00+0000Coined from the Greek word 'bios', meaning life' and suffix 'logy' meaning 'science of'. The term was introduced independently by Thomas Beddoes in 1799, Karl Friedrich Burdacgh in 1800, and Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1802.1799-01-01T00:00:00+0000Jean-Louis Prevost, a Swiss physician, and Jean-Baptiste Dumas, a French scientist, discovered the presence of spermatozoa in the testes of many different animals. Their work challenged the traditional view at the time that spermatozoa were parasites. Most of the findings were published in the Annales des Sciences Naturelles in the period 1821–30.1800-01-01T00:00:00+0000Schleiden was a botanist. Based on his study of plant structures under the microscope he helped develop the theory that cells are the basic structure in all organisms and the basic unit of reproduction. He also connected the cell nucleus with cell division and suggested that all embryonic plant cells arose from one cell. 1804-04-05T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
1 Oct 1744Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born in Bazentin, Picardy, FranceLamarckFrench Academy of SciencesGenetics
17 May 1749Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, United KingdomJennerBerkeley, United KingdomImmunology, Vaccine
13 Sep 1761Caspar Wistar was born in Philadelphia Wistar Institute 
1768Theory of spontaneous generation shown to be incorrectSpallanzaniUniversity of PaduaReproduction
1770First report of artificial insemination in a humanHunterSt George's HospitalReproduction, IVF
1770Fertilising function of sperm revealedSpallanzaniUniversity of PaduaReproduction
12 Dec 1777Albrecht von Haller diedvon HallerUniversity of GottingenAnatomy, Embryology, Reproduction, Physiology
1779Filtering process found to remove the fertility of frog spermSpallanzaniUniversity of PaduaReproduction
1783Caspar Wistar received his Batchelor of Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania Wistar Institute 
19 Jun 1783Friedrich Serturner was born in Neuhaus, GermanySerturner Chemistry
1785First successful artificial insemination in animalsSpallanzaniUniversity of PaviaReproduction, IVF
1786Caspar Wistar received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Edinburgh Wistar Institute 
1787Caspar Wistar appointed physician to the Philadelphia Dispensary, elected to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and to the American Philosophical Society Wistar Institute 
17 Feb 1792Karl Ernst von Baer was born in Piep estate, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire (now Piibe, Estonia)von BaerSt Petersburg Academy of SciencesEmbryology, Reproduction
1793Caspar Wistar became staff member of the Pennsylvania Hospital and elected curator of the American Philosophical Society Wistar Institute 
1797First smallpox vaccination Jenner Vaccine
17 Aug 1798Thomas Hodgkin bornThomas HodgkinSt Thomas's Hospital, Guy's HospitalPathology, Oncology
1799 - 1802First use of the word 'biology' Beddoes, Burdach, Treviranus, Lamarck  
1800Sperm shown to be produced in the testisPrevost, Dumas Reproduction
5 Apr 1804Matthias J Schleiden was bornSchleiden University of JenaCell, Genetics

1 Oct 1744

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born in Bazentin, Picardy, France

17 May 1749

Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, United Kingdom

13 Sep 1761

Caspar Wistar was born in Philadelphia


Theory of spontaneous generation shown to be incorrect


First report of artificial insemination in a human


Fertilising function of sperm revealed

12 Dec 1777

Albrecht von Haller died


Filtering process found to remove the fertility of frog sperm


Caspar Wistar received his Batchelor of Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania

19 Jun 1783

Friedrich Serturner was born in Neuhaus, Germany


First successful artificial insemination in animals


Caspar Wistar received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Edinburgh


Caspar Wistar appointed physician to the Philadelphia Dispensary, elected to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and to the American Philosophical Society

17 Feb 1792

Karl Ernst von Baer was born in Piep estate, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire (now Piibe, Estonia)


Caspar Wistar became staff member of the Pennsylvania Hospital and elected curator of the American Philosophical Society


First smallpox vaccination

17 Aug 1798

Thomas Hodgkin born

1799 - 1802

First use of the word 'biology'


Sperm shown to be produced in the testis

5 Apr 1804

Matthias J Schleiden was born