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Essay: Review of Icons of Life: A Cultural History of Human Embryos

To Lynn M. Morgan, the Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology at Mt. Holyoke College, nothing says life more than a dead embryo. In her easily readable book, Icons of Life: A Cultural History of Human Embryos, Morgan brings together cultural phenomena, ethics, and embryology to show that even dead embryos and fetuses have their own stories to tell. As an anthropologist, Morgan is interested in many things, including the science of embryology and its history. But she also wants to know how culture influences our views on embryos and the material practices that accompany their study.

Format: Essays

Subject: Publications

The Yale Embryo

In 1934 a fourteen-day-old embryo was discovered during a postmortem examination and became famous for being the youngest known human embryo specimen at the time. The embryo was coined "the Yale Embryo," named after the location where it was discovered, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. During the early twentieth century, the rush to collect embryos as well as to find younger and younger embryos was at an all time high, and the Yale Embryo is representative of the this enthusiasm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Reproduction

"Visualizing Human Embryos" (1999), by Bradley Richard Smith

In March 1999 Bradley Richard Smith, a professor at the University of Michigan, unveiled the first digital magnetic resonance images of human embryos. In his article "Visualizing Human Embryos for Scientific American," Smith displayed three-dimensional images of embryos using combinations of Magnetic Resonance Microscopy (MRM), light microscopy, and various computer editing. He created virtual embryo models that it is possible to view as dissections, animations, or in their whole 3D form. Smith's images constitute a new way of visualizing embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Publications

Alexis Carrel's Tissue Culture Techniques

Alexis Carrel, the prominent French surgeon, biologist, and 1912 Nobel Prize laureate for Physiology or Medicine, was one of the pioneers in developing and modifying tissue culture techniques. The publicized work of Carrel and his associates at the Rockefeller Institute established the practice of long-term tissue culture for a wide variety of cells. At the same time, some aspects of their work complicated the operational procedures of tissue culture.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

A History of Embryology (1959), by Joseph Needham

In 1931 embryologist and historian Joseph Needham published a well-received three-volume treatise titled Chemical Embryology. The first four chapters from this work were delivered as lectures on Speculation, Observation, and Experiment, as Illustrated by the History of Embryology at the University of London. The same lectures were later released as a book published in 1934 titled A History of Embryology.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Reassessment of Carrel's Immortal Tissue Culture Experiments

In the 1910s, Alexis Carrel, a French surgeon and biologist, concluded that cells are intrinsically immortal. His claim was based on chick-heart tissue cultures in his laboratory that seemed to be able to proliferate forever. Carrel's ideas about cellular immortality convinced his many contemporaries that cells could be maintained indefinitely. In the 1960s, however, Carrel's thesis about cell immortality was put into question by the discovery that human diploid cells can only proliferate for a finite period.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Theories

Embryos in Wax (2002), by Nick Hopwood

Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler Studio is a history of embryo wax modeling written by science historian Nick Hopwood. Published by the Whipple Museum of the History of Science University of Cambridge and the Institute of the History of Medicine University of Bern, 2002, the book, like the wax models, helps exemplify the visual and material culture of science.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Embryo Blotting Paper Models

Anatomical models have always been a mainstay of descriptive embryology. As the training of embryologists grew in the late 1800s, so too did the need for large-scale teaching models. Embryo wax models, such as those made by Adolf Ziegler and Gustav Born, were popular in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century as a way to visualize, in three dimensions, the fine detail of embryos without the aid of a microscope.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

Images of Embryos in Life Magazine in the 1950s

Embryonic images displayed in Life magazine during the mid-twentieth century serve as a representation of technological advances and the growing public interest in the stages of embryological development. These black-and-white photographs portray skeletal structures and intact bodies of chicken embryos and human embryos and fetuses obtained from collections belonging to universities and medical institutions.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Publications, Reproduction

Alexis Carrel's Immortal Chick Heart Tissue Cultures (1912-1946)

In an effort to develop tissue culture techniques for long-term tissue cultivation, French surgeon and biologist Alexis Carrel, and his associates, produced and maintained a series of chick heart tissue cultures at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. From 1912 to 1946, this series of chick heart tissue cultures remained alive and dividing. Since the duration of this culture greatly exceeded the normal chick life span, the cells were deemed immortal.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

"The Multi-Dimensional Human Embryo"

The Multi-Dimensional Human Embryo website (http://embryo.soad.umich.edu/) is a publicly accessible online database of the first three-dimensional images and animations of human embryos during different stages of development. Both the images and animations were created using magnetic resonance microscopy and compiled for easy access.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Organizations

"On the Permanent Life of Tissues outside of the Organism" (1912), by Alexis Carrel

'On the Permanent Life of Tissues outside of the Organism' reports Alexis Carrel's 1912 experiments on the maintenance of tissue in culture media. At the time, Carrel was a French surgeon and biologist working at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. In his paper, Carrel reported that he had successfully maintained tissue cultures, which derived from connective tissues of developing chicks and other tissue sources, by serially culturing them.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

"Drama of Life Before Birth" (1965), by Life Magazine and Lennart Nilsson

Life Magazine's 1965 cover story "Drama of Life Before Birth" featured photographs of embryos and fetuses taken by Swedish photojournalist Lennart Nilsson to document the developmental stages of a human embryo. Included in this article was the first published image of a living fetus inside its mother's womb. Prior to this, embryos and fetuses were observed, studied, and photographed outside of women's bodies as non-living specimens.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Outreach, Reproduction

"Derivation of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Cultured Human Primordial Germ Cells" (1998), by John Gearhart et al.

In November 1998, two independent reports were published concerning the first isolation of pluripotent human stem cells, one of which was "Derivation of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Cultured Human Primordial Germ Cells." This paper, authored by John D. Gearhart and his research team - Michael J Shamblott, Joyce Axelman, Shunping Wang, Elizabeith M. Bugg, John W. Littlefield, Peter J. Donovan, Paul D. Blumenthal, and George R. Huggins - was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science soon after James A.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

The Silent Scream (1984), by Bernard Nathanson, Crusade for Life, and American Portrait Films

The Silent Scream is an anti-abortion film released in 1984 by American Portrait Films, then based in Brunswick, Ohio. The film was created and narrated by Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician and gynecologist from New York, and it was produced by Crusade for Life, an evangelical anti-abortion organization. In the video, Nathanson narrates ultrasound footage of an abortion of a twelve-week-old fetus, claiming that the fetus opened its mouth in what Nathanson calls a silent scream during the procedure.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Reproduction

Hanging Drop Tissue Culture

The hanging drop tissue culture is a technique utilized in embryology and other fields to allow growth that would otherwise be restricted by the flat plane of culture dishes and also to minimize the surface area to volume ratio, slowing evaporation. The classic hanging drop culture is a small drop of liquid, such as plasma or some other media allowing tissue growth, suspended from an inverted watch glass. The hanging drop is then suspended by gravity and surface tension, rather than spreading across a plate.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

"The Limited In Vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Strains" (1964), by Leonard Hayflick

Leonard Hayflick in the US during the early 1960s showed that normal populations of embryonic cells divide a finite number of times. He published his results as 'The Limited In Vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Strains' in 1964. Hayflick performed the experiment with WI-38 fetal lung cells, named after the Wistar Institute, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Hayflick worked. Frank MacFarlane Burnet, later called the limit in capacity for cellular division the Hayflick Limit in 1974.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

The Miracle of Life (1983), by NOVA

The most-watched NOVA documentary ever made and a revolution in the understanding of human development, The Miracle of Life (abbreviated Life) employs the most current developments in endoscopic and microscopic technology to capture the intricacies of human development. Narrated by Anita Sangiolo and vividly illustrating the most minute and hard-to-reach parts and processes of living systems, this film truly flexes the muscles of the newest photographic technology of its time, with esteemed photographer Lennart Nilsson behind the camera.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Reproduction

Meselson, Stahl, and the Replication of DNA: A History of "The Most Beautiful Experiment in Biology" (2001), by Frederic Lawrence Holmes

In 2001, Yale University Press published Frederic Lawrence Holmes' book, Meselson, Stahl, and the Replication of DNA: A History of "The Most Beautiful Experiment in Biology" (Replication of DNA), which chronicles the 1950s debate about how DNA replicates. That experiment verified that DNA replicates semi-conservatively as originally proposed by Watson and Crick. Rather than focusing solely on experiments and findings, Holmes's book presents the investigative processes of scientists studying DNA replication.

Subject: Publications

Ziegler Wax Embryo Models

Three-dimensional anatomical models have long been essential to the learning of science and lend a sense of "control" to those practicing in the field. As the development of embryology grew in importance during the late 1800s, so did the need for models to show intricate details of embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies, Reproduction

Robert Geoffrey Edwards and Patrick Christopher Steptoe's Clinical Research in Human in vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer, 1969-1980

The biomedical accomplishment of human in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer (IVF-ET) took years to become the successful technique that presently enables infertile couples to have their own children. In 1969, more than ten years after the first attempts to treat infertilities with IVF technologies, the British developmental biologist Robert Geoffrey Edwards fertilized human oocytes in a Petri dish for the first time.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Reproduction

The Sex Side of Life (1919) by Mary Ware Dennett

Mary Ware Dennett, an activist in the US for birth control and sex education in the early twentieth century, wrote an educational pamphlet in 1915 called “The Sex Side of Life, and it was published in 1919. The pamphlet defined the functions of the sex organs, emphasized the role of love and pleasure in sex, and described other sexual processes of the body not usually discussed openly.

Format: Articles

Life's Greatest Miracle (2001), by Julia Cort and NOVA

The Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) documentary Life's Greatest Miracle (abbreviated Miracle, available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/miracle/program.html), is arguably one of the most vivid illustrations of the making of new human life. Presented as part of the PBS television series NOVA, Miracle is a little less than an hour long and was first aired 20 November 2001. The program was written and produced by Julia Cort and features images by renowned Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Reproduction

The Human Genome Project (1990-2003)

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific effort to sequence the entire human genome, that is, to produce a map of the base pairs of DNA in the human chromosomes, most of which do not vary among individuals. The HGP started in the US in 1990 as a public effort and included scientists and laboratories located in France, Germany, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations

"Hybrids and Chimeras: A Consultation on the Ethical and Social Implications of Creating Human/Animal Embryos in Research" (2007), by the HFEA

To educate its citizens about research into chimeras made from human and non-human animal cells, the United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority published the consultation piece Hybrids and Chimeras: A Consultation on the Ethical and Social Implications of Creating Human/Animal Embryos in Research, in 2007.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

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