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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

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15 April 1452, the illegitimate son of a young peasant girl by the name of Caterina and Ser Piero da Vinci, a well-renowned Florentine notary. Leonardo lived in Italy in the town of Vinci until his late teens and received a simple education in reading and writing as well as some training in mathematics and engineering. Although he was socially excluded by birthright from almost every profession and prohibited from attending any formal university, Leonardo went on to become a celebrated scientist, artist, and engineer.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Hensen's Node

A node, or primitive knot, is an enlarged group of cells located in the anterior portion of the primitive streak in a developing gastrula. The node is the site where gastrulation, the formation of the three germ layers, first begins. The node determines and patterns the anterior-posterior axis of the embryo by directing the development of the chordamesoderm. The chordamesoderm is a specific type of mesoderm that will differentiate into the notochord, somites, and neural tube. Those structures will later form the vertebral column.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Roman Catholic Church Quickening

Although the concept of quickening was not developed initially by the Roman Catholic Church, much of their histories are intertwined. Quickening, the point at which a pregnant woman can first feel the movements of the growing embryo or fetus, has long been a pivotal moment in pregnancy. Historically, it has also been a pivotal moment for law and the Church in deciding the criminal and religious sanctions for women who intentionally procured an abortion.

Format: Articles

Subject: Religion

Ricardo Hector Asch (1947- )

Ricardo Hector Asch was born 26 October 1947 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a lawyer and French professor, Bertha, and a doctor and professor of surgery, Miguel. Asch's middle-class family lived among the largest Jewish community in Latin America, where a majority of males were professionals. After his graduation from National College No. 3 Mariano Moreno in Buenos Aires, Asch worked as a teaching assistant in human reproduction and embryology at the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine where he received his medical degree in 1971.

Format: Articles

Subject: Ethics, People

Clomiphene Citrate

Clomiphene citrate, more commonly known by its brand names Clomid and Serophene, is a medication prescribed to women to stimulate ovulation in order to treat infertility. It stimulates ovulation in women who do not ovulate or ovulate irregularly. This drug was created by Dr. Frank Palopoli in 1956 while he worked for Merrell Company. It first successfully induced ovulation in women in 1961 and was approved by the Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1967.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

Leonardo da Vinci's Embryological Drawings of the Fetus

Leonardo da Vinci's embryological drawings of the fetus in the womb and his accompanying observational annotations are found in the third volume of his private notebooks. The drawings of Leonardo's embryological studies were conducted between the years 1510-1512 and were drawn with black and red chalk with some pen and ink wash on paper. These groundbreaking illustrations of the fetus reveal his advanced understanding of human development and demonstrate his role in the vanguard of embryology during the Renaissance.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Nikolai Ivanovic Vavilov (1887-1943)

Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov proposed theories of plant genetic diversity and participated in the political debate about genetics in Soviet Russia in the early twentieth century. Vavilov collected plant species around the world, building one of the first and most comprehensive seed banks, and he spent much of his life researching plant breeding and genetics. Vavilov also developed a theory of the historical centers of origin of cultivated plants. Vavilov spent most of his scientific career in Russia, although he studied abroad and traveled extensively.

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

De Monstruorum Causis, Natura et Differentiis (On the Reasons, Nature and Differences of Monsters) (1616), by Fortunio Liceti

In 1616 in Padua, Italy, Fortunio Liceti, a professor of natural philosophy and medicine, wrote and published the first edition of De Monstruorum Causis, Natura et Differentiis (On the Reasons, Nature, and Differences of Monsters), hereafter De monstruorum. In De monstruorum, Liceti chronologically documented cases of human and animal monsters from antiquity to the seventeenth century. During the seventeenth century, many people considered such monsters as frightening signs of evil cursed by spiritual or supernatural entities.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Betty Friedan (1921–2006)

Betty Friedan advocated for the advancement of women's rights in the twentieth century in the United States. In 1963, Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, which historians consider a major contribution to the feminist movement. Friedan also helped establish two organizations that advocated for women's right, the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1963 and, in 1969 the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NAARL). Friedan argued for legalizing access to abortion and contraception, and her advocacy helped advance women's reproductive rights.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Henry Morgentaler (1923-2013)

Henry Morgentaler was a physician who performed abortions, acted as a reproductive rights activist, and advocated for legal access to abortions in Canada during the twentieth century. In 1969, he opened his first abortion clinic in Canada and participated in the legal/court case of R v. Morgentaler (1988), which led Canada to decriminalize abortion. Morgentaler helped establish legal access to abortions for women in Canada and advocated for the protection of women's reproductive choices under the law.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Richard Doll (1912–2005)

Richard Doll was an epidemiologist and public figure in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Working primarily at the University of Oxford, in Oxford, England, Doll established a definitive correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Furthermore, Doll’s work helped legitimize epidemiology as a scientific discipline. Doll’s research also helped establish modern guidelines for oncological studies, as well as for contemporary and future research on the effect of smoking on pregnancy and fetal development.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

"CRISPR /Cas9-mediated Gene Editing in Human Tripronuclear Zygotes" (2015), by Junjiu Huang et al.

In 2015, Junjiu Huang and his colleagues reported their attempt to enable CRISPR/cas 9-mediated gene editing in nonviable human zygotes for the first time at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China. Their article, CRISPR /Cas9-mediated Gene Editing in Human Tripronuclear Zygotes, was published in Protein and Cell. Nonviable zygotes are sperm-fertilized eggs that cannot develop into a fetus. Researchers previously developed the CRISPR/cas 9 gene editing tool, which is a system that originated from bacteria as a defense mechanism against viruses.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Experiments

Richard Woltereck (1877-1944)

Richard Woltereck was a German zoologist and hydrobiologist who studied aquatic animals and extended the concept of Reaktionsnorm (norm of reaction) to the study of genetics. He also provided some of the first experimental evidence for the early twentieth-century embryological theory of heredity known as cytoplasmic inheritance. Through experiments on the water flea, Daphnia, Woltereck investigated whether variation produced by environmental impacts on development could play a role in heredity and evolution.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Seed Collection and Plant Genetic Diversity, 1900-1979

Farmers have long relied on genetic diversity to breed new crops, but in the early 1900s scientists began to study the importance of plant genetic diversity for agriculture. Scientists realized that seed crops could be systematically bred with their wild relatives to incorporate specific genetic traits or to produce hybrids for more productive crop yields.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (1974- )

Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is a nonprofit organization that began in 1974 as a joint endeavor by Reginald and Catherine Hamlin and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia promotes reproductive health in Ethiopia by raising awareness and implementing treatment and preventive services for women affected by obstetric fistulas. It also aims to restore the lives of women afflicted with obstetric fistulas in Ethiopia and eventually to eradicate the condition.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations, Reproduction, Outreach

Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960)

Roy Chapman Andrews traveled the world studying fossils, from mammals to dinosaurs, during the first half of the twentieth century. Andrews worked and collected fossil specimens for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, New York. Throughout his career, Andrews collected bones of many animal species, including a previously unknown species of a horned, herbivorous dinosaur, later named Proceratops andrewsi in his honor. Andrews published widely read narratives about his travels and field experiences, such as On the Trail of Ancient Man and Across Mongolian Plains.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Heart of a Dog (1925), by Mikhail Bulgakov

Собачье сердце (Heart of a Dog) is a novella written in 1925 by author and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov in Moscow, USSR, later Russia. An early English translation was published in 1968. Heart of a Dog tells the story of a stray dog named Sharik, who is found by a surgeon, and undergoes extensive surgery for experimental purposes to create a New Soviet man, someone committed to the ideals of communism in the Soviet Union.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Curt Jacob Stern (1902-1981)

Curt Jacob Stern studied radiation and chromosomes in humans and fruit flies in the United States during the twentieth century. He researched the mechanisms of inheritance and of mitosis, or the process in which the chromosomes in the nucleus of a single cell, called the parent cell, split into identical sets and yield two cells, called daughter cells. Stern worked on the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly, and he provided early evidence that chromosomes exchange genetic material during cellular reproduction.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

HIP Randomized Breast Cancer Screening Trial (1963–1982)

From 1963 to 1982, researchers in New York City, New York, carried out a randomized trial of mammography screening. Mammography is the use of X-ray technology to find breast cancer at early stages. The private insurance company Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, or HIP, collaborated with researchers Sam Shapiro, Philip Strax, and Louis Venet on the trial. The researchers’ goal was to determine whether mammography screening reduced breast cancer mortality in women. The study included sixty thousand women aged forty to sixty-four.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

The Hedgehog Signaling Pathway in Vertebrates 

The hedgehog signaling pathway is a mechanism that regulates cell growth and differentiation during embryonic development, called embryogenesis, in animals. The hedgehog signaling pathway works both between cells and within individual cells.

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

Environment and Birth Defects (1973), by James G. Wilson

Environment and Birth Defects by James Graves Wilson in the US was published in 1973. The book summarized information on the causes of malformations in newborns and aimed to acquaint policy makers with Wilson's suggestions for predicting the risks of environmental causes of birth defects, called teratogens. Wilson also provided six principles for researching teratogens, a framework revised from his 1959 article Experimental Studies on Congenital Malformations. The book has ten chapters.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Ernest John Christopher Polge (1926-2006)

Twentieth-century researcher Ernest John Christopher Polge studied the reproductive processes of livestock and determined a method to successfully freeze, thaw, and utilize viable sperm cells to produce offspring in animals. In 1949, Polge identified glycerol as a cryoprotectant, or a medium that enables cells to freeze without damaging their cellular components or functions. Several years later, Polge used glycerol in a freezing process called vitrification, which enabled him to freeze poultry sperm, thaw that sperm, and use it to fertilize vertebrate embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: People