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Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. He spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he later established his own school called the Lyceum. Aristotle wrote greater than 150 treatises on subjects ranging from aesthetics, politics, ethics, and natural philosophy, which include physics and biology. Less than fifty of Aristotle's treatises persisted into the twenty-first century.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), by Stephen Jay Gould

Ontogeny and Phylogeny is a book published in 1977, in which the author Stephen J. Gould, who worked in the US, tells a history of the theory of recapitulation. A theory of recapitulation aims to explain the relationship between the embryonic development of an organism (ontogeny) and the evolution of that organism's species (phylogeny). Although there are several variations of recapitulationist theories, most claim that during embryonic development an organism repeats the adult stages of organisms from those species in it's evolutionary history.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Matthias Jacob Schleiden (1804–1881)

Matthias Jacob Schleiden helped develop the cell theory in Germany during the nineteenth century. Schleiden studied cells as the common element among all plants and animals. Schleiden contributed to the field of embryology through his introduction of the Zeiss microscope lens and via his work with cells and cell theory as an organizing principle of biology.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1734-1794)

Caspar Friedrich Wolff is most famous for his 1759 doctoral dissertation, Theoria Generationis, in which he described embryonic development in both plants and animals as a process involving layers of cells, thereby refuting the accepted theory of preformation: the idea that organisms develop as a result of the unfolding of form that is somehow present from the outset, as in a homunculus. This work generated a great deal of controversy and discussion at the time of its publication but was an integral move in the reemergence and acceptance of the theory of epigenesis.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Ovism

Ovism was one of two models of preformationism, a theory of generation prevalent in the late seventeenth through the end of the eighteenth century. Contrary to the competing theory of epigenesis (gradual emergence of form), preformationism held that the unborn offspring existed fully formed in the eggs or sperm of its parents prior to conception. The ovist model held that the maternal egg was the location of this preformed embryo, while the other preformationism model known as spermism preferred the paternal germ cell, as the name implies.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840)

In eighteenth century Germany, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach studied how individuals within a species vary, and to explain such variations, he proposed that a force operates on organisms as they develop. Blumenbach used metrical methods to study the history of humans, but he was also a natural historian and theorist. Blumenbach argued for theories of the transformation of species, or the claim that new species can develop from existing forms.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)

Best known for his contributions to the field of embryology, Karl Ernst von Baer also pursued a variety of other areas of study including medicine, botany, zoology, and anthropology. Committing his life to scientific research, von Baer's work led to the advancement of the understanding of mammalian reproduction, development, and organ functioning. His embryological discoveries ultimately led him to a view of development that supported epigenesis and refuted long-held thinking about preformation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi (1827), by Karl Ernst von Baer

De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi (On the Genesis of the Ovum of Mammals and of Men) is an 1827 pamphlet by Karl Ernst von Baer about the anatomical observation and description of the egg (ovum) of mammals, like dogs and humans. The pamphlet detailed evidence for the existence of the ovum at the beginning of the developmental process in mammals.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Preformationism in the Enlightenment

Preformationism was a theory of embryological development used in the late seventeenth through the late eighteenth centuries. This theory held that the generation of offspring occurs as a result of an unfolding and growth of preformed parts. There were two competing models of preformationism: the ovism model, in which the location of these preformed parts prior to gestation was the maternal egg, and the spermism model, in which a preformed individual or homunculus was thought to exist in the head of each sperm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777)

Victor Albrecht von Haller was an 18th century scientist who did extensive work in the life sciences, including anatomy and physiology, botany, and developmental biology. His embryological work consisted of experiments in understanding the process of generation, and led him to adopt the model of preformationism called ovism (the idea that the new individual exists within the maternal egg prior to conception). Haller was born in Bern, Switzerland, on 16 October, 1708. His mother was Anna Maria Engel, and his father was Niklaus Emanuel Haller.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Homunculus

The term homunculus is Latin for "little man." It is used in neurology today to describe the map in the brain of sensory neurons in each part of the body (the somatosensory homunculus). An early use of the word was in the 1572 work by Paracelsus regarding forays into alchemy, De Natura Rerum, in which he gave instructions in how to create an infant human without fertilization or gestation in the womb. In the history of embryology, the homunculus was part of the Enlightenment-era theory of generation called preformationism.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

On the Generation of Animals, by Aristotle

Aristotle's On the Generation of Animals is referred to in Latin as De Generatione animalium. As with many of Aristotle's writings, the exact date of authorship is unknown, but it was produced in the latter part of the fourth century B.C. This book is the second recorded work on embryology that is treated as a subject of philosophy, being preceded by contributions in the Hippocratic corpus by about a century.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Abraham Trembley (1710-1784)

Abraham Trembley's discovery of the remarkable regenerative capacity of the hydra caused many to question their beliefs about the generation of organisms. Born 3 September 1710 to a prominent Geneva family, Trembley studied at the Calvin Institute, now the University of Geneva, where he completed his thesis on calculus. He went on to become tutor for Count William Bentinck's two sons, and it was while teaching the boys natural history that Trembley came across a strange organism in a sample of pond water.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799)

Lazzaro Spallanzani's imaginative application of experimental methods, mastery of microscopy, and wide interests led him to significant contributions in natural history, experimental biology, and physiology. His detailed and thoughtful observations illuminated a broad spectrum of problems ranging from regeneration to the genesis of thunderclouds.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Christian Heinrich Pander (1794-1865)

Christian Heinrich Pander, often remembered as the father of embryology, also explored the fields of osteology, zoology, geology, and anatomy. He was born in Riga, Latvia, on 24 July 1794. Pander, with an eclectic history of research, is best remembered for his discovery and explanation of the structure of the chick blastoderm, a term he coined. In doing so, Pander was able to achieve the goal set forth by his teacher, Ignaz Döllinger, to reinvigorate the study of the chick embryo as a means of further exploring the science of embryology as a whole.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Interpretation of Development and Heredity (1930), by Edward Stuart Russell

First published in 1930 and reprinted in 1972, Edward Stuart Russell's The Interpretation of Development and Heredity is a work of philosophical and theoretical biology. In this book Russell outlines a methodological and philosophical program aimed at reorienting the biological understanding of development and heredity.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Charles Bonnet (1720-1793)

Charles Bonnet was a naturalist and philosopher in the mid eighteenth century. His most important contribution to embryology was the discovery of parthenogenesis in aphids, proving that asexual reproduction of offspring was possible. In his later life, he was an outspoken defender of the theory of generation now known as preformationism, which stated that offspring exist prior to conception preformed in the germ cell of one of their parents.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

"The Potency of the First Two Cleavage Cells in Echinoderm Development. Experimental Production of Partial and Double Formations" (1891-1892), by Hans Driesch

Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch was a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century philosopher and developmental biologist. In the spring of 1891 Driesch performed experiments using two-celled sea urchin embryos, the results of which challenged the then-accepted understanding of embryo development. Driesch showed that the cells of an early embryo, when separated, could each continue to develop into normal larval forms.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Publications

Making Visible Embryos (2008- ), by Tatjana Buklijaz and Nick Hopwood

Making Visible Embryos is a 2008 online exhibition of embryos authored and designed by Tatjana Buklijaz and Nick Hopwood who work in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Hopwood's research on the history of Ziegler wax models and the use of visual aids to promote the teaching and learning of science is well known.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations, Outreach

Charles Manning Child (1869-1954)

Born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on 2 February 1869, Charles Manning Child was the only surviving child of Mary Elizabeth and Charles Chauncey Child, a prosperous, old New England family. Growing up in Higganum, Connecticut, Child was interested in biology from an early age. He made extensive collections of plants and minerals on his family farm and went on to study biology at Wesleyan University, commuting from his family home. Child received his PhB in 1890 and MS in biology in 1892, and then went on to study in Leipzig after his parents death.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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

"The Cell-Theory" (1853), by Thomas Henry Huxley

The Cell-Theory was written by Thomas Henry Huxley in Britain and published in 1853 by The British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review. The twenty-two page article reviews twelve works on cell theory, including those in Germany by Caspar Friedrich Wolff in the eighteenth century and by Karl Ernst von Baer in the nineteenth century. Huxley spends much of The Cell-Theory on a cell theory proposed in the late 1830s by Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann in Germany.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Spermism

Spermism was one of two models of preformationism, a theory of embryo generation prevalent in the late seventeenth through the end of the eighteenth century. Spermist preformationism was the belief that offspring develop from a tiny fully-formed fetus contained within the head of a sperm cell. This model developed slightly later than the opposing ovist model because sperm cells were not seen under the microscope until about 1677.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

William Harvey (1578-1657)

Renowned physician and scientist William Harvey is best known for his accurate description of how blood circulates through the body. While his published work on the circulation of blood is considered the most important of his academic life, Harvey also made significant contributions to embryology with the publication of his book Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium in 1651. In this book he established several theories that would set the stage for modern embryology and addressed many embryological issues including conception, embryogenesis, and spontaneous generation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Gustav Jacob Born (1851-1900)

Gustav Jacob Born was an experimental embryologist whose original work with amphibians served as the platform for his wax-plate method of embryo modeling, heteroblastic (different tissues) and xenoplastic (similar species) transplantation methods, environmental influences on sex ratio studies, and proposed function of the corpus luteum. He was born 22 April 1851 in Kempen, Prussia, but his family moved to the larger city of Görlitz within a year after Born's birth. His father was Marcus Born, a physician and public health officer who practiced in the town of Görlitz.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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