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.

Golgi 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+0000Roux was a German zoologist who helped pioneer experimental embryology. Using frogs' his work consisted of interfering with developing embryos to observe how the structure of organs and tissues were affected. Roux was also instrumental in the development of the principle of tissue culture through his experiments with chick embryos in 1885. 1850-06-09T00:00:00+0000Richet was a physiologist who shared the 1913 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of anaphylaxis, an acute allergic reaction where extremely small doses of an allergen may cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock. This phenomenon he discovered with Paul Portier after they attempted to immunise dogs against a toxin from sea anemones. Some of these dogs developed respiratory distress and died when injected with a second dose of the toxin. Richet and Portier hypothesised this was due to reduced immunity and increased sensitivity to the toxin. Their finding provided the first evidence that the immune system could damage as well as provide protection against disease. Richet went on to help elucidate the cause of hay fever, asthma and other allergic reactions to foreign substances. 1850-08-26T00:00:00+0000Reed was an American army pathologist and bacteriologist who helped to confirm the work of Carlos Finlay that yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito infected with Stegomyia fasciata (later renamed Aedes aegypti). This he did by leading experiments in Cuba between 1899 and 1900. The experiments involved the deliberate infection of human volunteers, including medical personnel, some of whom died. Reed's experiments put an end to the traditional thinking that yellow fever was transmitted by clothing and bedding soiled by the bodily fluids and excrement of yellow fever patients. The work paved the way to measures to control the mosquito population to prevent the spread of yellow fever. 1851-09-13T00:00:00+0000Ramon y Cahal was a histologist and neuroscientist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to uncover the structure of the nervous system. His theory that the brain is made up of individual cells rather than a tangled web is now a fundamental principle in neuroscience. He shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1906 for his discoveries about the structure of the nervous system. 1852-05-01T00:00:00+0000Petri was a microbiologist who is credited with inventing the petri dish, a shallow glass cylinder used to culture cells and bacteria. This he developed in the late 1870s while working as an assistant to Robert Koch. Petri developed the dish to help culture bacteria on agar plates. He subsequently developed the technique of agar culture to clone bacterial colonies derived from single cells. His work helped improve the process of identifying bacteria responsible for disease. 1852-05-31T00:00:00+0000Loeffler was a bacteriologist who is credited with the first isolation of the bacillus (Corynebacterium diphtheriae) that causes diphtheria. This he did in 1884. It was always present in the mucous membranes of the larynx and trachea of patients with diphtheria. Loeffler manged to culture the organism and reproduce it in susceptible animals. Later on he demonstrated that some animals had immunity to the disease, which he believed was linked to a toxin produced by the bacillus. This laid the foundation for the development of antitoxin therapy against diphtheria. 1852-06-24T00:00:00+0000Fischer was a German chemist who opened up the era of biochemistry by clarifying the structure of sugars and enzymes and elaborating how they were formed. In 1902 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for demonstrating the structure of biological compounds, including sugars proteins and purines. He synthesised many natural occurring molecules for the first time, including glucose, caffeine, and uric acid. In addition, he managed to synthesis several amino acids and created small chains of them as precursors to protein formation. Fisher is also associated with the idea of the 'lock and key' mechanism which is used to explain how enzymes catalyse certain reactions and not others.1852-10-09T00:00:00+0000Kitasato was a Japanese physician and bacteriologist who helped to discover the infectious agent of bubonic plague, Pasteurella pestis (now called Yersinia pestis). The discovery was made while investigating an epidemic in Hong Kong in 1894. Kitasato was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1901 based on his contributions to the discovery of the diphtheria antitoxin serum, which was used to prevent diphtheria. 1853-01-29T00:00:00+0000Gram was a bacteriologist who developed a method to quickly identify two different large groups of bacteria. His method is now routinely used for histology and microbiology. Bacteria that absorb the stain which turn purple are known as Gram positive bacteria, and those that do not absorb the stain, which might be coloured pink with a counterstain, are labelled Gram negative. 1853-09-13T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
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
9 Jun 1850Wilhelm Roux was born in in Jena, GermanyRouxUniversity of HalleEmbryology
26 Aug 1850Charles R Richet was born in Paris, FranceRichetSorbonne UniversityImmunology
13 Sep 1851Walter Reed born in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA Reed George Washington University School of MedicineInfectious diseases
1 May 1852Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born in Petilla de Arago, SpainRamon y CajalMadrid UniversityNeuroscience
31 May 1852Richard Julius Petri was bornPetriImperial Health OfficeBacteriology
24 Jun 1852Friedrich A J Loeffler was born in Frankfurt, GermanyLoefflerFriedrich Wilhelm Institute, University of GreifswaldBacteriology
9 Oct 1852Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Prussia (now Germany)FischerUniversity of BerlinBiochemistry
29 Jan 1853Shibasaburo Kitasato was born in Oguni, Kumamoto, Japan KitasatoUniversity of Berlin, Kitsato InstituteImmunology
13 Sep 1853Hans C J Gram was born in Copenhagen, DenmarkGramUniversity of CopenhagenBacteriology

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

9 Jun 1850

Wilhelm Roux was born in in Jena, Germany

26 Aug 1850

Charles R Richet was born in Paris, France

13 Sep 1851

Walter Reed born in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA

1 May 1852

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was born in Petilla de Arago, Spain

31 May 1852

Richard Julius Petri was born

24 Jun 1852

Friedrich A J Loeffler was born in Frankfurt, Germany

9 Oct 1852

Hermann Emil Fischer was born in Euskirchen, Prussia (now Germany)

29 Jan 1853

Shibasaburo Kitasato was born in Oguni, Kumamoto, Japan

13 Sep 1853

Hans C J Gram was born in Copenhagen, Denmark

Respond to or comment on this page on our feeds on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.