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The Meckel-Serres Conception of Recapitulation

Johann Friedrich Meckel and Antoine Etienne Reynaud Augustin Serres developed in the early 1800s the basic principles of what later became called the Meckel-Serres Law. Meckel and Serres both argued that fetal deformities result when development prematurely stops, and they argued that these arrests characterized lower life forms, through which higher order organisms progress during normal development. The concept that the embryos of higher order organisms progress through successive stages in which they resemble lower level forms is called recapitulation.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

"Gene Regulation for Higher Cells: A Theory" (1969), by Roy J. Britten and Eric H. Davidson

In 1969, Roy J. Britten and Eric H. Davidson published Gene Regulation for Higher Cells: A Theory, in Science. A Theory proposes a minimal model of gene regulation, in which various types of genes interact to control the differentiation of cells through differential gene expression. Britten worked at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Washington, D.C., while Davidson worked at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Their paper was an early theoretical and mechanistic description of gene regulation in higher organisms.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Syncytial Theory

The syncytial theory of neural development was proposed by Victor Hensen in 1864 to explain the growth and differentiation of the nervous system. This theory has since been discredited, although it held a significant following at the turn of the twentieth century. Neural development was well studied but poorly understood, so Hensen proposed a simple model of development. The syncytial theory predicted that the nervous system was composed of many neurons with shared cytoplasm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

The Gradient Theory

The gradient theory is recognized as Charles Manning Child's most significant scientific contribution. Gradients brought together Child's interest in development and his fascination with the origins of individuality and organization. The gradient theory grew from his studies of regeneration, which were largely based on work he conducted with marine invertebrates, such as the ascidian flat worm, planaria and the hydroid, tubularia.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Friedrich Tiedemann (1781-1861)

Friedrich Tiedemann studied the anatomy of humans and animals in the nineteenth century in Germany. He published on zoological subjects, on the heart of fish, the anatomy of amphibians and echinoderms, and the lymphatic and respiratory system in birds. In addition to his zoological anatomy, Tiedemann, working with the chemist Leopold Gmelin, published about how the digestive system functioned.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Charles Darwin's Theory of Pangenesis

In 1868 in England, Charles Darwin proposed his pangenesis theory to describe the units of inheritance between parents and offspring and the processes by which those units control development in offspring. Darwin coined the concept of gemmules, which he said referred to hypothesized minute particles of inheritance thrown off by all cells of the body. The theory suggested that an organism's environment could modify the gemmules in any parts of the body, and that these modified gemmules would congregate in the reproductive organs of parents to be passed on to their offspring.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

The Formation of Reticular Theory

In the nineteenth century, reticular theory aimed to describe the properties of neurons, the specialized cells which make up the nervous system, but was later disconfirmed by evidence. Reticular theory stated that the nervous system was composed of a continuous network of specialized cells without gaps (synapses), and was first proposed by researcher Joseph von Gerlach in Germany in 1871.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844)

Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, commonly known as Geoffroy, studied animals, their anatomy and their embryos, and teratogens at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Geoffroy also helped develop several specialized fields in the life sciences, including experimental embryology. In his efforts to experimentally demonstrate the theory of recapitulation, Geoffroy developed techniques to intervene in the growth of embryos to see whether they would develop into different kinds of organisms.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Origin of Species: "Chapter Thirteen: Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs" (1859), by Charles R. Darwin

Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs is the thirteenth chapter of Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species, first published in England in 1859. The book details part of Darwin's argument for the common ancestry of life and natural selection as the cause of speciation. In this chapter, Darwin summarizes the evidence for evolution by connecting observations of development in organisms to the processes of natural selection.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

The Germ-Plasm: a Theory of Heredity (1893), by August Weismann

Friedrich Leopold August Weismann published Das
Keimplasma: eine Theorie der Vererbung (The Germ-Plasm: a
Theory of Heredity, hereafter The Germ-Plasm) while
working at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany in 1892.
William N. Parker, a professor in the University College of South
Wales and Monmouthshire in Cardiff, UK, translated The
Germ-Plasm into English in 1893. In The Germ-Plasm,
Weismann proposed a theory of heredity based on the concept of the

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Theories

Early Infantile Autism and the Refrigerator Mother Theory (1943-1970)

In 1943, child psychiatrist Leo Kanner in the US gave the first account of Early Infantile Autism that encouraged psychiatrists to investigate what they called emotionally cold mothers, or refrigerator mothers. In 1949, Kanner published Problems of Nosology and Psychodynamics of Early Infantile Autism. In that article, Kanner described autistic children as reared in emotional refrigerators. US child psychiatrists claimed that some psychological or behavioral conditions might have origins in emotional or mental stress, meaning that they might be psychogenic.

Format: Articles

Subject: Disorders, Theories

A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery (1752-1764), by William Smellie

A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery is a three volume collection of patient accounts that William Smellie published from 1752 to 1764. Smellie, a physician and instructor in obstetrics in Great Britain, published these compilations to share his expertise in reproductive medicine, while also providing his students and colleagues with a source of reference in their own medical practices. Smellie wrote these books to shift obstetrics from a discipline practiced by midwives with limited medical training to one practiced in a medical context by physicians.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery, (1752-1764) by William Smellie

A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery is a three volume collection of patient accounts that William Smellie published from 1752 to 1764. Smellie, a physician and instructor in obstetrics in Great Britain, published these compilations to share his expertise in reproductive medicine, while also providing his students and colleagues with a source of reference in their own medical practices. Smellie wrote these books to shift obstetrics from a discipline practiced by midwives with limited medical training to one practiced in a medical context by physicians.

Format: Articles

Ernst Haeckel's Biogenetic Law (1866)

The biogenetic law is a theory of development and evolution proposed by Ernst Haeckel in Germany in the 1860s. It is one of several recapitulation theories, which posit that the stages of development for an animal embryo are the same as other animals' adult stages or forms. Commonly stated as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, the biogenetic law theorizes that the stages an animal embryo undergoes during development are a chronological replay of that species' past evolutionary forms.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Johann Friedrich Meckel, the Younger (1781-1833)

Johann Friedrich Meckel studied abnormal animal and human anatomy in nineteenth century Germany in an attempt to explain embryological development. During Meckel's lifetime he catalogued embryonic malformations in multiple treatises. Meckel's focus on malformations led him to develop concepts like primary and secondary malformations, atavism, and recapitulation- all of which influenced the fields of medicine and embryology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Amphioxus, and the Mosaic Theory of Development (1893), by Edmund Beecher Wilson

Edmund Beecher Wilson experimented with Amphioxus (Branchiostoma) embryos in 1892 to identify what caused their cells to differentiate into new types of cells during the process of development. Wilson shook apart the cells at early stages of embryonic development, and he observed the development of the isolated cells. He observed that in the normal development of Amphioxus, all three main types of symmetry, or cleavage patterns observed in embryos, could be found. Wilson proposed a hypothesis that reformed the Mosaic Theory associated with Wilhelm Roux in Germany.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Calvin Bridges’ Experiments on Nondisjunction as Evidence for the Chromosome Theory of Heredity (1913-1916)

From 1913 to 1916, Calvin Bridges performed experiments that indicated genes are found on chromosomes. His experiments were a part of his doctoral thesis advised by Thomas Hunt Morgan in New York, New York. In his experiments, Bridges studied Drosophila, the common fruit fly, and by doing so showed that a process called nondisjunction caused chromosomes, under some circumstances, to fail to separate when forming sperm and egg cells. Nondisjunction, as described by Bridges, caused sperm or egg cells to contain abnormal amounts of chromosomes.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Publications

"Testing the Kin Selection Theory: Who Controls the Investments?" from The Ants (1990), by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson

In “Testing the Kin Selection Theory: Who Controls the Investments?” Bert Hölldobler and Edward Osborne Wilson discussed the predictive power of kin selection theory, a theory about the evolution of social behaviors. As part of Hölldobler's and Wilson's 1990 book titled The Ants, Hölldobler and Wilson compared predictions about the reproductive practices of ants to data about the reproductive practices of ants. They showed that the data generally supported the expected behaviors proposed by kin selection theory.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Theories

Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior (1964), by Bernard Rimland

Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior (hereafter Infantile Autism) is a book written by Bernard Rimland, published in 1964. The book proposed a theory to explain the causes of autism. The book also synthesized research into autism and used Rimland's neural theory, described in the book, as a theory to explain some aspects of behavior, intelligence, and abnormality.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

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

Karl Ernst von Baer's Laws of Embryology

In 1828, while working at the University of Konigsberg in Konigsberg, Germany Karl Ernst von Baer proposed four laws of animal development, which came to be called von Baer's laws of embryology. With these laws, von Baer described the development (ontogeny) of animal embryos while also critiquing popular theories of animal development at the time.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Germ Layers

A germ layer is a group of cells in an embryo that interact with each other as the embryo develops and contribute to the formation of all organs and tissues. All animals, except perhaps sponges, form two or three germ layers. The germ layers develop early in embryonic life, through the process of gastrulation. During gastrulation, a hollow cluster of cells called a blastula reorganizes into two primary germ layers: an inner layer, called endoderm, and an outer layer, called ectoderm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories, Processes

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (1834-1919)

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was a prominent comparative anatomist and active lecturer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is most well known for his descriptions of phylogenetic trees, studies of radiolarians, and illustrations of vertebrate embryos to support his biogenetic law and Darwin's work with evolution. Haeckel aggressively argued that the development of an embryo repeats or recapitulates the progressive stages of lower life forms and that by studying embryonic development one could thus study the evolutionary history of life on earth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Essay: The Cuvier-Geoffroy Debate

In 1830, a dispute erupted in the halls of lÕAcad mie des Sciences in Paris between the two most prominent anatomists of the nineteenth century. Georges Cuvier and tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, once friends and colleagues at the Paris Museum, became arch rivals after this historical episode. Like many important disputes in the history of science, this debate echoes several points of contrasts between the two thinkers.

Format: Essays

Subject: Theories

St. George Jackson Mivart (1827-1900)

St. George Jackson Mivart studied animals and worked in England during the nineteenth century. He also proposed a theory of organismal development that he called individuation, and he critiqued Charles Darwin's argument for evolution by natural selection. His work on prosimians, a group of primates excluding apes and monkeys, helped scientists better investigate the Primate group.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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