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Molecular Epigenetics and Development: Histone Conformations, DNA Methylation and Genomic Imprinting

Introduced by Conrad Hal Waddington in 1942, the concept of epigenetics gave scientists a new paradigm of thought concerning embryonic development, and since then has been widely applied, for instance to inheritable diseases, molecular technologies, and indeed the human genome as a whole. A genome contains an embedded intricate coding template that provides a means of genetic expression from the initial steps of embryonic development until the death of the organism. Within the genome there are two prominent components: coding (exons) and non-coding (introns) sequences.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

John Spangler Nicholas (1895-1963)

John Spangler Nicholas, an American biologist, was born on 10 March 1895 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He was the only child of Elizabeth Ellen Spangler, a teacher, and Samuel Trauger Nicholas, a Lutheran minister. Nicholas held myriad administrative positions throughout his life and his contributions to biology spanned several sub-disciplines, but his most notable accomplishments were in the field of embryology.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

August Antonius Rauber (1841-1917)

August Antonius Rauber was an embryologist and anatomist who examined gastrulation in avian embryos. He examined the formation of the blastopore, epiblast, and primitive streak during chick development. Subsequent researchers have further studied Rauber's findings, which has led to new discoveries in embryology and developmental biology.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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

Julia Bell (1879-1979)

Julia Bell worked in twentieth-century Britain, discovered Fragile X Syndrome, and helped find heritable elements of other developmental and genetic disorders. Bell also wrote much of the five volume Treasury of Human Inheritance, a collection about genetics and genetic disorders. Bell researched until late in life, authoring an original research article on the effects of the rubella virus of fetal development (Congenital Rubella Syndrome) at the age of 80.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Cerebral Organoid as a Model System in the Study of Microcephaly

Scientists use cerebral organoids, which are artificially produced miniature organs that represent embryonic or fetal brains and have many properties similar to them, to help them study developmental disorders like microcephaly. In human embryos, cerebral tissue in the form of neuroectoderm appears within the first nine weeks of human development, and it gives rise to the brain and spinal cord.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

Martin Couney and Incubator Exhibits from 1896 to 1943

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, physician Martin Couney held incubator exhibits to demonstrate the efficacy of infant incubators throughout the US and
Europe. At his exhibits, Couney demonstrated that isolating premature infants in an incubator ward
could significantly decrease premature infant mortality and increased the use of incubators in the
US.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations, Places

Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Embryology

The Carnegie Institution of Washington's (CIW) Embryology Department was opened in 1914 and remains one of six departments in the CIW. The department quickly became, and remains, world renowned for its many embryonic development discoveries. In 1913 Franklin P. Mall, Professor of Anatomy at Johns Hopkins Medical School, applied for a Carnegie grant to support his research with human embryos. Mall had a collection of over 800 human embryo specimens and was at the point of wanting to do more than just collect.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations

Neurocristopathies

Neurocristopathies are a class of pathologies in vertebrates,
including humans, that result from abnormal expression, migration,
differentiation, or death of neural crest cells (NCCs) during embryonic development. NCCs are cells
derived from the embryonic cellular structure called the neural crest.
Abnormal NCCs can cause a neurocristopathy by chemically affecting the
development of the non-NCC tissues around them. They can also affect the
development of NCC tissues, causing defective migration or

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Hans Asperger (1906-1980)

Hans Asperger studied mental abnormalities in children in
Vienna, Austria, in the early twentieth century. Asperger was one of
the early researchers who studied the syndrome that was later named
after him, Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger described the syndrome in
his 1944 publication Die Autistischen Psychopathen im
Kindesalter (Autistic Psychopathy in Childhood). At that time,
the syndrome was called autistic psychopathy, and Asperger noted
that characteristics of the syndrome included lack of sympathy,

Format: Articles

Subject: People

"Maternal Thyroid Deficiency During Pregnancy and Subsequent Neuropsychological Development of the Child" (1999), by James E. Haddow et al.

From 1987 to the late 1990s, James Haddow and his team of researchers at the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough, Maine, studied children born to women who had thyroid deficiencies while pregnant with those children. Haddow's team focused the study on newborns who had normal thyroid function at the time of neonatal screening. They tested the intelligence quotient, or IQ, of the children, ages eight to eleven years, and found that all of the children born to thyroid-hormone deficient mothers performed less well than the control group.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

"The Developmental Capacity of Nuclei Taken from Intestinal Epithelium Cells of Feeding Tadpoles" (1962), by John B. Gurdon

In 1962 researcher John Bertrand Gurdon at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, conducted a series of experiments on the developmental capacity of nuclei taken from intestinal epithelium cells of feeding tadpoles. In the experiments, Gurdon conducted nuclear transplantation, or cloning, of differentiated cells, or cells that have already specialized to become one cell type or another, in tadpoles. Gurdon's experiment showed that differentiated adult cells could be induced to an undifferentiated state, where they could once again become multiple cell types.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

“Diethylstilbestrol in the Prevention and Treatment of Complications of Pregnancy” (1948), by Olive Watkins Smith

In 1948, Olive Watkins Smith published 'Diethylstilbestrol in the Prevention and Treatment of Complications of Pregnancy' in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In 632 women treated with diethylstilbestrol, Smith demonstrated that the drug stimulated the production of progesterone, a hormone that regulates the uterine condition during pregnancy.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

James Young Simpson (1811–1870)

James Young Simpson was one of the first obstetricians to administer anesthesia during childbirth in nineteenth century Scotland. Before his work in the 1800s, physicians had few ways to reduce the pain of childbirth. Simpson experimented with the use of ether and chloroform, both gaseous chemicals, to temporarily relieve pain. He found that those chemicals both successfully inhibited the pain women felt during childbirth and pain during other surgeries. Patients under the influence of chloroform fell asleep and were unaware of the intense pain of childbirth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Jane Collective (1969–1973)

The Jane Collective was an underground organization that provided illegal abortion services in Chicago, Illinois, from 1969 until abortions became legal in 1973. Formally called the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, the Jane Collective was a member organization and working group within Chicago Women’s Liberation Union that challenged the Illinois state legislature by providing abortions before they were legal in the US.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organization

Trial of Madame Restell (Ann Lohman) for Abortion (1841)

In the spring of 1841, abortionist Ann Lohman, called Madame Restell, was convicted for crimes against one of her abortion clients, Maria Purdy. In a deathbed confession, Purdy admitted that she had received an abortion provided by Madame Restell, and she further claimed that the tuberculosis that she was dying from was a result of her abortion. Restell was charged with administering an illegal abortion in New York and her legal battles were heavily documented in the news.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

David Edwin Wildt (1950- )

David Edwin Wildt developed and applied assisted reproductive technologies to conserve rare and endangered wildlife species in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He advocated genome resource banks to help preserve biodiversity, and he advocated for practical ethics to guide wildlife reproductive biologists when they use technology and environmental planning. Wildt often focused on the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), but he researched greater than fifty vertebrate species.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Karl Oskar Illmensee (1939–)

Karl Oskar Illmensee studied the cloning and reproduction of fruit flies, mice, and humans in the US and Europe during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Illmensee used nuclear transfer techniques (cloning) to create early mouse embryos from adult mouse cells, a technique biologists used in later decades to help explain how embryonic cells function during development. In the early 1980s, Illmensee faced accusations of fraud when others were unable to replicate the results of his experiments with cloned mouse embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, People

Arthur William Galston (1920–2008)

Arthur W. Galston studied plant hormones in the United States during the late-twentieth century. His dissertation on the flowering process of soybean plants led others to develop Agent Orange, the most widely employed herbicide during the Vietnam War, used to defoliate forests and eliminate enemy cover and food sources. Galston protested the spraying of those defoliants in Vietnam, as they could be harmful to humans, animals, and the environment.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Tomorrow's Children (1934)

Tomorrow's Children is a film that tells the story of Alice Mason, a young woman whom the US government forcibly sterilizes because she comes from a family with a history of alcoholism, mental illnesses, and physical disabilities, traits that they considered biologically determined and inferior. The film, released in 1934, was directed by Crane Wilbur, produced by Bryan Foy, written by Wilbur and Wallace Thurman, and released by Foy Productions Ltd.

Format: Articles

Alec John Jeffreys (1950–)

Alec John Jeffreys created a process called DNA fingerprinting in the UK during the twentieth century. For DNA fingerprinting, technicians identify a person as the source of a biological sample by comparing the genetic information contained in the person's DNA to the DNA contained in the sample. Jeffreys developed the technique in the 1980s while at the University of Leicester in Leicester, UK. Jeffreys's technique had immediate applications. In forensic science, DNA fingerprinting enabled police to identify suspects of crimes based on their genetic identities.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Stanley Alan Plotkin's Development of a Rubella Vaccine (1969)

In the US during the late 1960s, Stanley Alan Plotkin, John D. Farquhar, Michael Katz, and Fritz Buser isolated a strain of the infectious disease rubella and developed a rubella vaccine with a weakened, or attenuated, version of the virus strain. Rubella, also called German measles, is a highly contagious disease caused by the rubella virus that generally causes mild rashes and fever. However, in pregnant women, rubella infections can lead to developmental defects in their fetuses.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

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

Purkinje Cells

Purkinje cells, also called Purkinje neurons, are neurons in vertebrate animals located in the cerebellar cortex of the brain. Purkinje cell bodies are shaped like a flask and have many threadlike extensions called dendrites, which receive impulses from other neurons called granule cells. Each cell also has a single projection called an axon, which transmits impulses to the part of the brain that controls movement, the cerebellum. Purkinje cells are inhibitory neurons: they secrete neurotransmitters that bind to receptors that inhibit or reduce the firing of other neurons.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Victor Jollos (1887-1941)

Victor Jollos studied fruit flies and
microorganisms in Europe and the US, and he introduced the concept of
Dauermodifikationen in the early 1900s. The concept of
Dauermodifikationen refers to environmentally-induced traits that are
heritable for only a limited number of generations. Some scientists
interpreted the results of Jollos's work on Paramecium and Drosophila as
evidence for cytoplasmic inheritance. Jollos was forced to emigrate from
Germany to the United States due to anti-semitic government policies in

Format: Articles

Subject: People