Genetics: Timeline of key events

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Galton publishes the term in his book 'Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development'. 1883-01-01T00:00:00+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. 1884-01-06T00:00:00+0000Richard Altmann, German pathologist, renames nuclein as nucleic acid.1889-01-01T00:00:00+0000Fisher was a statistician and geneticist who pioneered the use of statistical procedures to study Mendelian genetics and natural selection. His work helped lay the foundation for population genetics and modern statistical science. Between 1919 and 1934 he worked at the Rothamsted Experimental Station where he made major contributions to rational crop breeding programmes. He established a means to track the linkage of genes for different traits and introduced the principle of randomisation for preventing the introduction of bias in experiments. In his early life he was a prominent Eugenicist.1890-02-17T00:00:00+0000Muller was a geneticist. He is best known for the experiments he carried out that demonstrated that X-rays could change the genetic make-up of fruit-flies and the mutations were passed on to subsequent generations. Published in 1927 this work attracted widespread attention as it marked the first time the genetics of a species was intentionally altered. Muller's work opened up new understanding of how mutations are caused and heralded a revolution in genetics research. He was awarded he 1946 Nobel Prize for 'the discovery of the production of mutations by means of X-ray irradiation'.1890-12-21T00:00:00+0000Haldane was a geneticist, biometrician and physiologist who helped to open up new research paths into population genetics and evolution. He was responsible for the establishment of human gene maps for haemophilia and colour blindness on the X chromosome and was one of the first to suggest that sickle-cell anaemia provides some immunity to Malaria. Haldane is also remembered for establishing the principles for in vitro fertilisation and for coining the terms 'clone' and 'cloning' in human biology. He was also a strong populariser of science and a renowned socialist. 1892-11-05T00:00:00+0000William G Ruppel discovered the nucleotide while trying to isolate the bacterial toxin responsible for tuberculosis. 1898-01-01T00:00:00+0000Lysenko was a Russian biologist who rejected the principles of Mendelian genetics and embraced the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamark who promoted the idea that an organism could pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring. Much of his work was directed towards trying to convert wheat crops to grow in different seasons. Stalin appointed Lysenko director of the Institute of Genetics in 1940, a position he retained until 1965. His rejection of orthodox genetics set Soviet agriculture and biology back by many decades. 1898-09-29T00:00:00+0000Pauling was a chemist and biochemist who helped to pioneer quantum chemistry and mechanics. He combined methods from x-ray crystallography, molecular model building and quantum chemistry. Pauling was the first to find the alpha helix structure of proteins. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his 'research on the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex structures.' He also co-authored the first paper to suggest sickle-cell anaemia was a genetic disease, which introduced the concept of 'molecular disease'. Pauling also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962, which was awarded to him for his opposition to nuclear weapons.1901-02-28T00:00:00+0000Theodor Boveri, German biologist, and Walter Sutton, American geneticist and physician, independently develop the theory that chromosomes carry genetic material.1902-01-01T00:00:00+0000Archibald Garrod, an English physician, suggests that genetic defects cause the loss of enzymes and hereditary metabolic diseases, providing the first premise for gene therapy. 1902-01-01T00:00:00+0000McClintock was a pioneer in the field of cytogenetics, a branch of genetics concerned with how chromosomes affect cell behaviour. Based on her investigation of how chromosomes change in reproduction in maize she demonstrated in the late 1920s that genes can shift to different locations by themselves. In the 1940s and 1950s she showed that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off, a process called transposition. Initially scientists were sceptical of her findings so she stopped publishing her data in 1953. By the 1960s and 1970s attitudes towards her work changed as more scientists made similar findings. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her work.1902-06-16T00:00:00+0000Beadle, a geneticist, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1958 for discovering the role of genes in regulating biochemical events within cells. He made the discovery in collaboration with Edward Tatum while conducting experiments that exposed Neurospora crassa, a the bread mould, to x-rays to cause mutations. They found that the mutations caused changes in specific enzymes that were involved in metabolic pathways. The work was done at Stanford University.1903-10-22T00:00:00+0000Snell was a major founder of immunogenetics as a discipline. He is best known for helping to identify the major histocompatibility complex, a group of genes that code for proteins found on the surface of cells that help the immune system differentiate between self and nonself cells, and demonstrating its role in tissue graft rejection. This work laid the foundation for carrying out successful transplants in both animals and humans. Snell shared the 1980 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions'.1903-12-19T00:00:00+0000Flemming was a German 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. 1905-08-04T00:00:00+0000Ochoa was a biochemist and molecular biologist whose research was devoted to understanding enzymes and their role in intermediary metabolism. He was one of the first scientists to show the pivotal role of high energy phosphates, like adenosine triphosphate, in the storage and release of energy. During this work he discovered the enzyme polynucleotide phosphorylase, which plays an important role in the synthesis of ribonucleic acid (RNA). This enzyme provided the foundation for the subsequent synthesis of artificial RNA and the breaking of the human genetic code. Ochoa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1959 for his work on the biological synthesis of RNA.1905-09-24T00:00:00+0000The term was first used by the English biologist William Bateson. He used it to described the study of heredity. 1906-01-01T00:00:00+0000A German biophysicist, Delbruck helped discover how viruses replicate their genetic structure, showing that bacterial resistance from viruses is due to random mutation and not the result of adaptive changes. This work showed that viruses reproduce in one step and not exponentially as happens in the case of cellular organisms. In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine on the back of this work. Blending biochemistry with genetics, Delbruck made substantial contributions to uncovering important aspects of genetics. 1906-09-04T00:00:00+0000Clarke was a physician and geneticist who was one of the first to appreciate the importance of medical genetics in day-to-day clinical practice. Based on his knowledge of how genetics dictated the colour of wing patterns in butterflies, he became interested in the inheritance of human blood types. This paved the way to his development of measures to prevent rhesus haemolytic disease of the newborn. Such babies, born of a positive-Rhesus factor father and a negative-Rhesus factor mother, can result in a fatal anaemia in babies. Clarke established the Nuffield Unit for medical genetics in Liverpool. 1907-08-22T00:00:00+0000Hershey was a bacteriologist and geneticist. He is best known for a series of experiments with bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) which helped to confirm that DNA, rather than proteins, carried genetic material. These he performed with Martha Chase in 1952. Hershey shared the 1969 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.' 1908-12-04T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places Sciences
1883The term 'Eugenics' is coined by Francis Galton to denote the science of improving stock by judicious matingGalton Genetics
6 Jan 1884Gregor Johann Mendel diedMendel Genetics
1889Richard Altmann, German pathologist, renames nuclein as nucleic acidAltmannLeipzig UniversityGenetics, DNA
17 Feb 1890Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born in London, United KingdomFisherRothamsted Experimental StationGenetics
21 Dec 1890Hermann J Muller was born in New York, USAMullerIndiana UniversityGenetics
5 Nov 1892John BS Haldane born in Oxford, UKJBS HaldaneUniversity of Cambridge, University of California Berkeley, University of LondonGenetics, Biology, Physiology
1898A nucelotide called tuberculinic acid found to bind to the protein tuberculin. It is now regarded as the precursor to the discovery of DNA methylationRuppelPhilipps University of MarburgDNA methylation, Epigenetics
29 Sep 1898Trofim D Lysenko as born in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate, Russian EmpireLyschenoLenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural SciencesEvolution, Genetics
28 Feb 1901Linus C Pauling was born in Portland OR, USAPaulingCalifornia Institute of TechnologyGenetics, DNA
1902Chromosomes linked with inheritanceBoveri, GarrodZoological-Zootomical Institute, Columbia UniversityGenetics, DNA
1902 - 1908Metabolic disease explained by genetic defectsGarrodOxford UniversityGenetics
16 Jun 1902Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USAMcClintockUniversity of MissouriGenetics
22 Oct 1903George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, USABeadleCalifornia Institute of Technology, Stanford UniversityGenetics
19 Dec 1903George D Snell was born in Bradford MA, USASnellJackson LaboratoryGenetics, Immunology, Transplantation
4 Aug 1905Walther Flemming diedFlemmingUniversity of KielCell, Genetics
24 Sep 1905Severo Ochoa was born in Luarca, SpainOchoaNew York UniversityGenetics, DNA, RNA
1906Term 'genetics' coinedBateson Genetics
4 Sep 1906Max Delbruck was born in Berlin, GermanyDelbruckCalifornia Institute of TechnologyGenetics, Virology
22 Aug 1907Cyril A Clarke was born in Leicester, UKCyril ClarkeLiverpool UniversityGenetics
4 Dec 1908Alfred D Hershey was born in Owosso, MI, USAHersheyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonGenetics, Virology


The term 'Eugenics' is coined by Francis Galton to denote the science of improving stock by judicious mating

6 Jan 1884

Gregor Johann Mendel died


Richard Altmann, German pathologist, renames nuclein as nucleic acid

17 Feb 1890

Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born in London, United Kingdom

21 Dec 1890

Hermann J Muller was born in New York, USA

5 Nov 1892

John BS Haldane born in Oxford, UK


A nucelotide called tuberculinic acid found to bind to the protein tuberculin. It is now regarded as the precursor to the discovery of DNA methylation

29 Sep 1898

Trofim D Lysenko as born in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate, Russian Empire

28 Feb 1901

Linus C Pauling was born in Portland OR, USA


Chromosomes linked with inheritance

1902 - 1908

Metabolic disease explained by genetic defects

16 Jun 1902

Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USA

22 Oct 1903

George Wells Beadle was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, USA

19 Dec 1903

George D Snell was born in Bradford MA, USA

4 Aug 1905

Walther Flemming died

24 Sep 1905

Severo Ochoa was born in Luarca, Spain


Term 'genetics' coined

4 Sep 1906

Max Delbruck was born in Berlin, Germany

22 Aug 1907

Cyril A Clarke was born in Leicester, UK

4 Dec 1908

Alfred D Hershey was born in Owosso, MI, USA

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