Harvard University: Timeline of key events

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Altman was a molecular biologist who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering the catalytic properties of RNA. This emerged out of some work Altman carried out between 1978 and 1983 on a bacterial enzyme called RNAs-P. His research helped transform the basic understanding of nuclear acids, which up to this moment had been understood to only carry genetic information. It also opened up the possibility of using genetic engineering to develop new forms of therapy against viral infections. 1939-05-07T00:00:00+0000An American physician and bacteriologist, Zinsser isolated the bacterium that causes typhus and developed a protective vaccine against it. In 1935 he published the book 'Rats, Live and History' in which he recounted the effects of typhus on mankind and the efforts to eradicate it. In the book he argued that disease was responsible for more deaths than war.1940-09-04T00:00:00+0000Albert Coons, an American physician and immunologist, develops the immunofluorescence technique using antibodies coupled with fluorophore. This allowed for microscopic visualisation of antibodies helping to launch the clinical disciplines of diagnostic immunofluorescence microscopy for bacteriology and immunology, immunocytology, and immunohistochemistry in anatomic pathology.1941-01-01T00:00:00+0000Cannon was a neurologist and physiologist who is renowned for being the first to use X rays in physiological studies. He also advanced understandings about homeostasis, the process by which the body maintains its temperature. In 1915 he coined the term 'flight or fight response' to describe the physiological reaction that takes place in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival. He also developed methods for storing blood and in 1931 discovered sympathin, an adrenaline-like substance released at the tips of certain nerve ends.1945-10-01T00:00:00+0000Szotak is a biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for helping to discover how chromosomes are protected by telomeres, a section of DNA at the end of a chromosome. He is also known for having constructed the world's first yeast artificial chromosome, a breakthrough that has helped scientists to map the location of genes in mammals and develop techniques for mapping genes. Szotak is also responsible for the development of a technique known as in vitro evolution of RNA which makes it possible to discover RNAs with desired functions. 1952-11-09T00:00:00+0000An American biochemist, Cohn developed a fractionation technique to separate blood into its components, paving the way to safer blood transfusion. During World War II he worked out methods for isolating serum albumin from blood plasma which is crucial to maintaining osmotic pressure in blood vessels and preventing their collapse. Thousands of soldiers were successfully treated on the battlefield with transfusions of purified albumin. Cohn subsequently developed mechanisms so that every component of blood could be used in transfusions.1953-10-01T00:00:00+0000The operation was performed by Joseph E Murray together with J Hartwell Harrison and other colleagues. They transplanted a healthy kidney donated by Ronald Herrick into his twin brother, Richard, who was dying from chronic nephritis. Richard went on to live for another 8 years after the transplant. By demonstrating that organs could be transplanted between identical twins, Murray and Harrison's team opened up transplantation surgery as a new speciality. 1954-12-23T00:00:00+0000The discovery was made by Paul C. Zamecnik with his colleagues Mahlon Hoagland and Mary Stephenson. tRNA is essential to protein synthesis. The molecule helps shuttle amino acids to the ribosome, the cell's protein factory. The work was subsequently published in MB Hoagland, ML Stephenson, JF Scott, ML Stephenson, LI Hecht, PC Zamecnik, 'A soluble ribonucleic acid intermediate in protein synthesis', Journal Biological Chemistry, 231 (1958), 241-57. 1956-01-01T00:00:00+0000Goodpasture was an American research scientists who developed the first method for culturing uncontaminated viruses in chicken embryos and fertilised chicken eggs. Before this viruses were grown in living tissues which could be contaminated by bacteria. Goodpasture's method laid the foundation for the mass production of vaccines for diseases like smallpox, yellow fever, typhus and chicken pox. He was also a key pioneer in the development of the mumps vaccine. 1960-09-20T00:00:00+0000The medium was first described by John Littlefield in work he did to characterise four cell lines. He published this in JW Littlefield, 'Selection of hybrids from matings of fibroblasts in vitro and their presumed recombinants,' Science 145 (1964), 709–10.The HAT meidum has the advantage that it can inhibit unfused myeloma cell proliferation. This is particularly important for the growth of monoclonal antibodies. 1964-08-14T00:00:00+0000Pincus was a biologist. He first came to public attention in 1934 when he announced the creation of baby rabbits with in vitro fertilisation. His technique involved the removal of an ovum from the mother rabbit, soaking it in a solution with a mixture of saline and estrone and then placing it back in the rabbit. The experiment could not be repeated by other scientists and prompted wide-scale condemnation. It cost him his tenure position at Harvard University. In order to continue his research Pincus helped found the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in 1944, where he led the development of the first contraceptive pill in the early 1950s. 1967-08-22T00:00:00+0000This is achieved by Walter Gilbert and Allan Maxam at Harvard University using a method known as wandering-spot analysis.1973-01-01T00:00:00+0000A.D. Riggs, 'X inactivation, differentiation, and DNA methylation', Cytogenet Cell Genet, 14 (1975), 9–25; R. Sager, R. Kitchin, 'Selective silencing of eukaryotic DNA', Science, 189/4201 (1975), 426-33. 1975-01-01T00:00:00+0000Julian was a chemist who was a renowned pioneer of pharmacological synthesis. He was the first African-American granted a doctoral degree in chemistry and the first to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. In 1935 he achieved the first synthesis of physostigmine. This he produced from soybean oil. The drug is used to treat glaucoma and delayed gastric emptying. A year later he joined the Gidden Company in Chicago where he oversaw the development of the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human sex hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone from soybean plant sterols. This work laid the foundation for the industrial production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and the oral contraceptive pill. Julian left Gidden in 1953 to found his own company, Julian Laboratories Inc.1975-04-19T00:00:00+0000Two separate teams, one led by Fred Sanger at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, and one composed of Allan Maxam, and Walter Gilbert at Harvard University publish two different methods for sequencing DNA. The first, known as the Sanger Method, or dideoxy sequencing, involves the breaking down and then building up of DNA sequences. The second, the Maxam-Gilbert method, involves the partial chemical modification of nucleotides in DNA. 1977-02-01T00:00:00+0000Fieser was an organic chemist. He won many research awards for his work on blood-clotting agents, including for the synthesis of vitamin K, which he achieved in 1939 and for which he was nominated as a contender for the Nobel Prize in 1941 and 1942 (when no prizes were awarded). His work on steroids also laid the foundation for the synthesis of cortisone. In addition he helped develop quinones as antimalarial drugs. Fieser had two chemical reagents named after him. He is also famous for the creation of napalm, a flammable liquid he developed during World War II, which was controversially used as an incendiary device in the Vietnam war.1977-07-25T00:00:00+0000Woodward was an organic chemist who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for opening up the field of artificial synthesis. He first made his mark in the early 1940s by demonstrating the application of ultraviolet spectroscopy for elucidating the structure of natural products. His method helped reduce the long and extremely tedious steps previously used to decipher the chemical structures of such products. In 1944 he and his postdoctoral researcher, William von Eggers Doering reported the successful synthesis of quinine, an organic compound used for the treatment for malaria. He went on to synthesise other organic compounds like cholesterol, cortisone, strychnine, and chlorophyll.1979-07-08T00:00:00+0000Prize shared with Walter Gilbert. Awarded on the basis of their 'contributions concerning the determination of base sequences in nucleic acids.' 1980-01-01T00:00:00+0000Orr-Weaver, T L, Szostak, J W, Rothstein, R J, 'Yeast transformation: A model system for the study of recombination', PNAS, 78/10 (1981), 6353-8.1981-10-01T00:00:00+0000PA Krieg, DA, Melton, (1984) 'Functional messenger RNAs are produced by SP6 in vitro transcription of cloned cDNAs', Nucleic Acids Research, 12/18, 7057-70.1984-09-25T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
7 May 1939Sidney Altman was born in Montreal, CanadaAltmanHarvard University, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Yale UniversityRNA, genetics
4 Sep 1940Hans Zinsser diedZinsserColumbia University, Stanford University, Harvard UniversityBacteriology, Vaccines
1941Immunofluorescence technique introducedCoonsHarvard UniversityAntibodies
1 Oct 1945Walter B Cannon diedCannonHarvard Medical SchoolPhysiology
9 Nov 1952Jack Szostak was born in London, United KingdomSzotakHarvard UniversityGenetics, RNA
1 Oct 1953Edwin J Cohn diedCohnHarvard UniversityBiochemistry
23 Dec 1954First successful human kidney transplant carried outJ MurrayBrigham Hospital, Harvard UniversityTranplantation
1956Transfer RNA (tRNA) discoveredZamecnik, Hoagland, Stephenson,Harvard UniversityDNA, RNA
20 Sep 1960Ernest Goodpasture diedGoodpastureHarvard UniversityVirology, Vaccines
14 Aug 1964HAT medium introduced for cell selectionLittlefieldHarvard UniversityCell culture, Monoclonal antibodies
22 Aug 1967Gregory Pincus diedPincusHarvard University, Worcester Foundation for Experimental BiologyReproduction
1973The sequencing of 24 basepairs is reportedGilbert, MaxamHarvard UniversityDNA Sequencing
1975DNA methylation suggested as mechanism behind X-chomosome silencing in embryosRiggs, Sager, KitchenCity of Hope National Medical Center, Harvard UniversityDNA methylation, Epigenetics, Embryology
19 Apr 1975Percy Lavon Julian diedJulianHarvard UniversityPharmacology, Reproduction
Feb 1977Two different DNA sequencing methods published that allow for the rapid sequencing of long stretches of DNASanger, Maxam, GilbertHarvard University, Laboratory of Molecular BiologyDNA Sequencing
25 Jul 1977Louis F Fieser diedFieserHarvard University 
Jul 1979Robert Burns Woodward diedWoodwardHarvard UniversityPharmacology
1980Sanger awarded his second Nobel Prize in ChemistrySanger, GilbertHarvard University, Laboratory of Molecular BiologyDNA Sequencing
Oct 1981Double-stranded DNA break technique developed for genetically modifying yeast Orr-Weaver, Szostak, RothsteinHarvard University, New Jersey Medical SchoolGene editing
25 Sep 1984Large amounts of biological active mRNA produced in the laboratory using RNA-synthesis vaccine Krieg, MeltonHarvard UniversitymRNA

7 May 1939

Sidney Altman was born in Montreal, Canada

4 Sep 1940

Hans Zinsser died


Immunofluorescence technique introduced

1 Oct 1945

Walter B Cannon died

9 Nov 1952

Jack Szostak was born in London, United Kingdom

1 Oct 1953

Edwin J Cohn died

23 Dec 1954

First successful human kidney transplant carried out


Transfer RNA (tRNA) discovered

20 Sep 1960

Ernest Goodpasture died

14 Aug 1964

HAT medium introduced for cell selection

22 Aug 1967

Gregory Pincus died


The sequencing of 24 basepairs is reported


DNA methylation suggested as mechanism behind X-chomosome silencing in embryos

19 Apr 1975

Percy Lavon Julian died

Feb 1977

Two different DNA sequencing methods published that allow for the rapid sequencing of long stretches of DNA

25 Jul 1977

Louis F Fieser died

25 Jul 1977

Robert Burns Woodward died


Sanger awarded his second Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Oct 1981

Double-stranded DNA break technique developed for genetically modifying yeast

25 Sep 1984

Large amounts of biological active mRNA produced in the laboratory using RNA-synthesis vaccine

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