Timeline of key events in biotechnology

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Allbutt was an English physician who is renowned for inventing the short clinical thermometer. He introduced the instrument in 1866. It was a marked improvement on the previous foot-long thermometer which took 20 minutes to register a patient's temperature. In 1871 he introduced the use of the ophthalmoscope to inspect the interior of the eye. A few years later, in 1894, Allbutt determined that the painful heart condition angina pectoris stems from the aorta. 1836-07-20T00:00:00+0000Kuhne was a physiologist who coined the term 'enzyme' after his discovery of the protein-digesting enzyme trypsin in 1876. Early on in his career Kuhne worked on the physiology of muscle. In later years he turned to looking at the chemistry of digestion. Kuhne is also known for having helped to elucidate the chemical changes that occur in the retina under the influence of light. 1837-03-28T00:00:00+0000The Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius first proposed term to describe a single substance that was a component of living matter.1838-01-01T00:00:00+0000Cohnheim was a renowned pathologist who was the first to freeze pathological specimens for examination. he also helped to determine the morbid changes that inflammation, tuberculosis and other diseases cause to animal tissue. In addition he developed the classification now used for tumours, for example carcinomas, fibroma, and sarcoma. His theory of the causes of embolism also opened up new methods for medical treatment. 1839-07-20T00:00:00+0000Born in Germany, Serturner 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 treating pain. It is also used for its calming effects. The discovery of morphine established alkaloid chemistry as a new branch of science.1841-02-20T00:00:00+0000Having trained in medicine in Paris, Holmes became a central figure in the Massachusetts Medical Society and Boston Medical Society. He often criticised traditional medical practices such as blood-letting and promoted the use of both the stethoscope and microscope. Well before the the emergence of the germ theory of disease, Holmes put forward the idea that puerperal fever - a potentially deadly infection contracted by women during or just after childbirth - was caused by unhygienic practices of physicians. Publishing this theory on the back of evidence in 1843, Holmes called for physicians to purify their instruments as well as to burn the clothes they had worn when assisting a fatal delivery and to refrain from obstetric deliveries for a period of at least 6 months. 1841-03-08T00:00:00+0000Kocher was a physician and medical researcher who was a major pioneer in the fields of applied surgery, neurosurgery and, especially, thyroid surgery and endocrinology. His success in the field of surgery is attributed to his implementation of antiseptic wound treatment, use of special masks on patients for anaesthesia and controlling blood loss during surgery. Kocher was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1909 for his work on the physiology, pathology and surgery of the thyroid. He was the first Swiss person and first surgeon to ever receive the prize. Within the field of neurosurgery he showed that some epilepsy cases were caused by brain tumours that could be surgically removed.1841-08-25T00:00:00+0000von Nageli identified string-like bodies in cell nucleus. He did not know they played role in heredity. 1842-01-01T00:00:00+0000Flemming was a biologist who is credited with the foundation of cytogenetics. He was the first to describe the behaviour of chromosomes during cell division, a process he called mitosis. This he discovered through investigations of the fins and gills of salamanders. He first published his findings in 1878. In addition to his pioneering scientific work, Flemming is famous for his social activism. Notably he fed the homeless on a weekly basis and donated 20% of his salary to homeless shelters. He also taught mathematics and science to children too poor to attend school. 1843-04-21T00:00:00+0000Golgi was a cytologist and pathologist who shared the 1906 Nobel Prize in Medicine for research into the nervous system. He developed a microscopic staining technique, using silver compounds, for seeing new and unseen structures in nerve tissues and individual neurons in the brain. This he invented in 1873 while working as chief medical officer at the Hospital for the Chronically ill. Golgi was the first to provide clear descriptions of the structure of the cerebellum, hippocampus, spinal cord and olfactory lobe. He also defined striatal and cortical lesions in the case of chorea, a neurological disorder. 1843-07-07T00:00:00+0000Koch was a major bacteriologist. He was responsible for the identification of the causative agents of anthrax (1876), tuberculosis (1882) and cholera (1883). This was aided by the photomicrography method he developed. The technique involved preparing thin layers of bacteria on glass slides which were fixed by heat. Koch also invented a method for culturing microorganisms in a drop nutrient solution on the underside of a glass slide. In 1890 he laid out 4 general criteria, known Koch's postulates, for establishing the causative relationship between a microbe and a disease. Koch was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1905 for his groundbreaking work on tuberculosis. 1843-12-11T00:00:00+0000Miescher was the first person to isolate nucleic acids from the nuclei of white blood cells. This he did in 1869. The significance of his work, first published in 1871, was initially missed by the scientific community. Miescher later suggested that nucleic acids could carry the genetic blueprint for life. In addition to his work on nucleic acids, Miescher demonstrated carbon dioxide concentrations in blood regulate breathing. Twitter1844-08-13T00:00:00+0000Manson was a physician who is heralded as the founder of tropical medicine. He was the first to identify an insect in the spread of disease. In 1877-79 he discovered that filariasis was caused by an infection with roundworms which are spread by blood feeding insects like mosquitoes. Manson made the discovery while he was working in China. His work paved the way for the theory that malaria was caused by mosquitoes. Manson was involved in the foundation of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and also the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese. 1844-10-03T00:00:00+0000Mechnikov was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his discovery of phagocytes (macrophages), a type of immune cell that protects the body by ingesting harmful foreign substances like bacteria and dead or dying cells. He made the discovery in 1882 while studying an unusual group of cells that clustered around thorns he pinned into starfish larvae. Based on this work he hypothesised that inflammation resulted from the process by which white blood cells attacked and destroyed bacteria. The scientific community took time to accept this idea. 1845-05-16T00:00:00+0000Laveran was a physician who was one of the first to show protozoan parasites were the cause of disease. He first made the link in 1880 after finding parasites in a blood smear taken from a patient who had just died from malaria. This parasite would later be called Plasmodium. Laveran subsequently identified Trypanosoma, another protozoan parasite, was the cause of trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness). In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize on the back of these discoveries. Laveran devoted half of his prize money to set up the Laboratory of Tropical Medicine at the Pasteur Institute where he was Chief of the Honorary Service.1845-06-18T00:00:00+0000van Beneden was a cytologist and embryologist. He worked out how chromosomes divide during cell meiosis. Based on studies of an intestinal worm found in horses, he also showed that fertilisation involves the union of two half-nuclei, one form the male sperm cell and one from the female egg, each containing half the the number of chromosomes found in all cells. He later demonstrated that the chromosome number is constant for every body cell in each species. 1846-03-05T00:00:00+0000Baumann was a physiological chemist who in 1896 discovered high levels of iodine in sheep glands. This suggested the specific compound was important to the function of the gland. His discovery paved the way to the use of iodine to treat thyroid disorders like goitre and other thyroid disorders. Baumann also determined that aromatic compounds in urine were made up of aromatic amino acids like tyrosine.1846-12-12T00:00:00+0000Lankester was a zoologist and evolutionary biologist who was one of the first to discover protozoan parasites in the blood of vertebrates. His work contributed to understanding the parasite that causes malaria and the various phases it passes through when in the mosquito and human blood. This laid the foundation for the diagnosis and treatment of malaria. 1847-05-15T00:00:00+0000MacEwen was a Scottish physician who developed a technique to locate brain tumours by observing changes in motor and sensory functions. He performed the first successful intracranial surgery in 1879 on a teenage girl. The operation was conducted based on preoperative observation of twitches on her face and arms. The patient lived for another eight years. An autopsy performed after her death showed no trace of her tumour. 1848-06-22T00:00:00+0000Hertwig was a biologist who determined that fertilisation starts when the nuclei of sperm and ovum cells fuse. This he proved in 1876 through experiments with sea urchins. Eight years later he demonstrated, through investigations of frog eggs, that the cell divides along its long axis. He was also prescient in predicting, in 1885, that the nucleic acid is the substance responsible for fertilisation and the transmission of hereditary traits. This phenomenon was proven in 1944. 1849-04-21T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
20 Jul 1836Thomas Clifford Allbutt was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, UKAllbuttUniversity of CambridgeDiagnostics, Cardiovascular
28 Mar 1837Willhelm Kuhne was born in Hamburg, GermanyKuhneUniversity of HeidelbergBiochemistry, Physiology
1838The term 'protein' first coinedBerzeliusRoyal Swedish Academy of Sciences 
20 Jul 1839Julius F Cohnheim born Demmin, Pomerania, GermanyCohnheimUniversity of Kiel, University of Breslau, University of LeipzigPathology, Oncology
20 Feb 1841Friedrich Serturner diedSerturner Chemistry
8 Mar 1841Olive Wendell Holmes Jr was born in Boston, MA, USAWendell Holmes Infectious diseases
25 Aug 1841Emil Theodor Kocher was born in Berne, SwitzerlandKocherUniversity of BerneNeuroscience, Endocrinology, Surgery
1842First observation of chromosomes by Swiss botanist Karl von NageliNageliGenetics, DNA
21 Apr 1843Walther Flemming was born in Schwerin, GermanyFlemmingUniversity of KielCell, Genetics
7 Jul 1843Camillo Golgi was born in Corteno, ItalyGolgiUniversity of PaviaNeuroscience
11 Dec 1843Robert Koch was born in Clausthal (now Clausthal-Zellerfeld), GermanyKochUniversity of BerlinBacteriology
13 Aug 1844Johann Friedrich Miescher was born in Basel, SwitzerlandMiescherUniversity of TubingenDNA
3 Oct 1844Patrick Manson was born in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, ScotlandMansonLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineParasitology
16 May 1845Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov was born in Kharkov (now Kharkiv), Russian Empire (now Ukraine)MechnikovPasteur InstituteImmunology
18 Jun 1845Charles L Alphonse Laveran was born in Paris, FranceLaveranPasteur InstituteInfectious diseases
5 Mar 1846Edouard van Beneden was born in Leuven, Belgianvan Beneden University of LiegeCell, Genetics, DNA
12 Dec 1846Eugen Baumann was born in Cannstatt, Baden-Wurttemberg, GermanyBaumannUniversity of FreibergChemistry
15 May 1847Edwin R Lankester was born in London, UKLankesterUniversity College London, Oxford University 
22 Jun 1848William MacEwen was bornMacEwenUniversity of GlasgowNeuroscience
21 Apr 1849Oskar Hertwig was born in Friedberg, GermanyHertwigFriedberg, GermanyReproduction, Genetics

20 Jul 1836

Thomas Clifford Allbutt was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, UK

28 Mar 1837

Willhelm Kuhne was born in Hamburg, Germany


The term 'protein' first coined

20 Jul 1839

Julius F Cohnheim born Demmin, Pomerania, Germany

20 Feb 1841

Friedrich Serturner died

8 Mar 1841

Olive Wendell Holmes Jr was born in Boston, MA, USA

25 Aug 1841

Emil Theodor Kocher was born in Berne, Switzerland


First observation of chromosomes by Swiss botanist Karl von Nageli

21 Apr 1843

Walther Flemming was born in Schwerin, Germany

7 Jul 1843

Camillo Golgi was born in Corteno, Italy

11 Dec 1843

Robert Koch was born in Clausthal (now Clausthal-Zellerfeld), Germany

13 Aug 1844

Johann Friedrich Miescher was born in Basel, Switzerland

3 Oct 1844

Patrick Manson was born in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

16 May 1845

Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov was born in Kharkov (now Kharkiv), Russian Empire (now Ukraine)

18 Jun 1845

Charles L Alphonse Laveran was born in Paris, France

5 Mar 1846

Edouard van Beneden was born in Leuven, Belgian

12 Dec 1846

Eugen Baumann was born in Cannstatt, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

15 May 1847

Edwin R Lankester was born in London, UK

22 Jun 1848

William MacEwen was born

21 Apr 1849

Oskar Hertwig was born in Friedberg, Germany

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