Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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1808-01-01T00:00:00+0000Darwin was an English naturalist best known for developing the theory that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry. His book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, outlined his evidence for his theory of evolution. While initially rejected, his explanation of natural selection as the basic mechanism for evolution achieved broad consensus by 1930s and was accepted as a unifying theory for the diversity of life.1809-02-12T00:00:00+0000Schwann was a physiologist who defined the cell as the basic unit of animal tissue structure. This was based on his investigation of the structure and function of nerves, muscles and blood vessels. His work in this area was aided by the arrival of new powerful microscopes. Schwann's work laid the foundation for the study of cell biology.1810-12-07T00:00:00+00001811-01-01T00:00:00+0000Snow was a 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. 1813-03-15T00:00:00+0000Remak was a Polish-German embryologist, physiologist and neurologist who is best known for showing that all cells come from the division of pre-existing cells. He first made this discovery while observing red blood cells from chicken embryos in various stages of division. Later on he confirmed the same process happened in the cell of every frog's egg immediately after fertilisation. Remak also discovered unmyelinated nerve fibers and the nerve cells in the heart. Despite his achievements, Remak never gained a full position as professor because of his Jewish background. 1815-07-26T00:00:00+0000Brown-Sequard was a physiologist and neurologist. He is best known for his discovery of the physiology of the spinal cord and the need for the adrenal gland. In addition, he predicted the existence of hormones. He sparked controversy after claiming to have rejuvenated his sexual prowess by injecting himself with extracts of monkey testis. His response to the extracts is now considered to have been placebo but his experiment helped found endocrinology as a discipline.1817-04-08T00:00:00+00001818-01-22T00:00:00+0000Semmelweis was a physician who in 1847 found that hand-washing with chlorinated lime solutions could dramatically reduce the number of women dying in childbirth from puerperal fever. He developed his method based on his observation that puerperal fever killed as many as 3 out 10 women who gave birth in hospital, but was rare among those who had home births. Believing the disease was possibly transmitted by doctors he insisted that all those who worked under him washed their hands in chemicals between patient examinations. Despite his success in reducing maternal mortality, his method was rejected during his life-time. It only became widespread after the rise of germ theory. 1818-07-01T00:00:00+0000Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from a medical school in US (Geneva Medical College, New York). In 1857 she set up the New York Dispensary for Indigent Women and Children. A year later she became the first woman registered on UK Medical Register. Blackwell was an ardent promoter of women's education in medicine. In 1874 she helped set up the London School of Medicine for Women which prepared women to take the licensing exam of the Apothecaries Hall. For Blackwell, medicine was a means for social and moral reform. Between 1880 and 1895 she became involved in a number of reform movements, including moral reform, sexual purity, hygiene, Eugenics, medical ethics, and women's rights. 1821-02-03T00:00:00+0000Galton is best known for having ignited the debate about 'Nature versus Nurture' in 1869 and coined the term 'Eugenics' in 1883. Inspired by his cousin Charles Darwin's work, he developed a programme of research to understand human variation, looking at their differences in mental capabilities and height to facial characteristics and fingerprint patterns. He pioneered the use of statistical methods to determine human differences and how intelligence and physical traits are passed down through families. 1822-02-16T00:00:00+0000Mendel is today considered the father of modern genetics. An Augustinian monk, Mendel helped establish the basic laws of genetic inheritance by studying the traits between different pea plant generations. Mendel conducted this research between 1853 and 1863. Based on experiments with tens of thousands of different plants, Mendel established that peas followed certain patterns in terms of the traits they inherited. He published his results in 1866, but he did little to promote his work. The importance of his work was only grasped many decades later after his death. 1822-07-20T00:00:00+0000Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist who is best known for inventing a sterilisation method for slowing down the development of microbes in milk and wine, a process now called pasteurisation. He also made significant breakthroughs in understanding the causes and prevention of bacterial diseases. His work was instrumental in helping to reduce the mortality rate from puerperal fever, a major cause of death for women in childbirth in the 19th century. Pasteur also pioneered the first rabies vaccine.1822-12-27T00:00:00+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 now 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. Jenner then tested out the same technique in 23 further people. Based on his success, in 1840 the British government decided to outlaw variolation and instead provide 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. 1823-01-26T00:00:00+0000A chemist and physiologist, Hoppe-Seyler helped pioneer the disciplines of biochemistry and molecular biology. He studied fluids of the body such as blood, haemoglobin, pus, bile, milk, and urine and was the first to crystallise haemoglobin and observe its absorption spectrum. In addition he performed several important studies on chlorophyll and isolated several different proteins. Hoppe-Seyler lost both of his parents by the time he was nine years old and spent some of his childhood in an orphan asylum in Halle. He was subsequently adopted by Georg Seyler, the husband of his older sister.1825-12-26T00:00:00+0000The observation was made by Carl Ernst von Baer while investigating the ovary of a dog. 1826-01-01T00:00:00+0000The term was used by Karl Ernst Baer, a Baltic German anatomist and zoologist. Before this time sperm were known as 'animalcules. 1827-01-01T00:00:00+0000Lister pioneered the practice of cleanliness in surgery by introducing the routine use of carbolic acid on surgical instruments and wounds. He developed these methods at Glasgow Royal Infirmary after being inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur. Lister's ideas about the transmission of infection and the use of antiseptics were initially mocked by his peers and it took time for the surgeons to accept them. The adoption of Lister's techniques dramatically reduced the incidence of post-operative infections and improved the safety of surgery. 1827-04-05T00:00:00+0000Hutchinson was a physician and pathologist who is renowned for his life-long study of congenital syphilis. He provided the first definitive description of the medical signs for the disease: notched incisor teeth, labyrinthine deafness, and interstitial keratitis. This provided a useful means for diagnosing the disease before the discovery of Treponema pallidum bacteria and development of the Wassermann test. Hutchinson was also the first to identify an inflammatory disease, then called 'Hutchinson's disease', but now known as sarcoidosis. 1828-07-23T00:00:00+0000Lamarck 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. 1829-12-18T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
1808Caspar Wistar appointed sole professor of anatomy, midwifery and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Wistar Institute 
12 Feb 1809Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, United KingdomDarwinShrewsbury, United KingdomEvolution
7 Dec 1810Theodor Schwann was born in Neuss, GermanySchwannUniversity of LiegeCell
1811 - 1814Caspar Wistar published his two volumes of 'A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine', the first American anatomy textbook Wistar Institute 
15 Mar 1813John Snow was born in London, United KingdomSnow  
26 Jul 1815Robert Remak was born in Posen, PrussiaRemak Embryology, Cell, Neurology
8 Apr 1817Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard was born in Port Louis, MauritiusBrown-SequardPort Louis, MauritiusEndocrinology
22 Jan 1818Caspar Wistar died Wistar Institute 
1 Jul 1818Ignaz P Semmelweis was born in Budapest, Hungary SemmelweisVienna General HospitalBacteriology
3 Feb 1821Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, EnglandBlackwell  
16 Feb 1822Francis Galton was born in Birmingham, United KingdomGaltonUniversity College LondonGenetics
20 Jul 1822Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Hyncice, Czech RepublicMendelHyncice, Czech RepublicGenetics
27 Dec 1822Louis Pasteur was bornPasteurPasteur InstituteBacteriology
26 Jan 1823Edward Jenner diedJenner Immunology, Vaccine
26 Dec 1825Felix Hoppe-Seyler was born in GermanyHoppe-SeylerUniversity of TubingenBiochemistry
1826First observation of a mammalian egg in the ovaryvon Baer Konigsberg UniversityReproduction
1827Term 'spermatozoa' introduced for the first timevon BaerSt Petersburg Academy of SciencesReproduction
5 Apr 1827Joseph Lister was born in West Ham, London, UKListerGlasgow University, King's College London 
23 Jul 1828Jonathan Hutchinson was born in Selby, Yorkshire, UKHutchinson  
18 Dec 1829Jean-Baptiste Lamarck diedLamarckFrench Academy of SciencesEpigenetics, Genetics


Caspar Wistar appointed sole professor of anatomy, midwifery and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania

12 Feb 1809

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

7 Dec 1810

Theodor Schwann was born in Neuss, Germany

1811 - 1814

Caspar Wistar published his two volumes of 'A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine', the first American anatomy textbook

15 Mar 1813

John Snow was born in London, United Kingdom

26 Jul 1815

Robert Remak was born in Posen, Prussia

8 Apr 1817

Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard was born in Port Louis, Mauritius

22 Jan 1818

Caspar Wistar died

1 Jul 1818

Ignaz P Semmelweis was born in Budapest, Hungary

3 Feb 1821

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England

16 Feb 1822

Francis Galton was born in Birmingham, United Kingdom

20 Jul 1822

Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Hyncice, Czech Republic

27 Dec 1822

Louis Pasteur was born

26 Jan 1823

Edward Jenner died

26 Dec 1825

Felix Hoppe-Seyler was born in Germany


First observation of a mammalian egg in the ovary


Term 'spermatozoa' introduced for the first time

5 Apr 1827

Joseph Lister was born in West Ham, London, UK

23 Jul 1828

Jonathan Hutchinson was born in Selby, Yorkshire, UK

18 Dec 1829

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck died