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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

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

"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

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

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

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

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

Eduard Friedrich Wilhelm Pflüger (1829-1910)

Eduard Friedrich Wilhelm Pflüger was a physiologist known for his research on respiration, the respiratory quotient, experimenting on the effects of electricity on muscles and nerves, and his study of the ovaries and egg development. His experiments on how the gravitational orientation of frog eggs affects their cleavage plane inspired embryologists such as Wilhelm Roux and Gustav Born to conduct their own experiments using frog eggs.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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

Wilhelm Friedrich Phillip Pfeffer (1845-1920)

Wilhelm Friedrich Phillip Pfeffer studied plants in Germany during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He started his career as an apothecary, but Pfeffer also studied plant physiology, including how plants move and react to changes in light, temperature, and osmotic pressure. He created the Pfeffer Zelle apparatus, also known as the Pfeffer Cell, to study osmosis in plants. PfefferÕs experiments led to new theories about the structure and development of plants.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

August Friedrich Leopold Weismann (1834-1914)

August Friedrich Leopold Weismann studied how the traits of organisms developed and evolved in a variety of organisms, mostly insects and aquatic animals, in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Weismann proposed the theory of the continuity of germ-plasm, a theory of heredity. Weismann postulated that germ-plasm was the hereditary material in cells, and parents transmitted to their offspring only the germ-plasm present in germ-cells (sperm and egg cells) rather than somatic or body cells.

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

Fetus in Fetu

Fetus in fetu is a rare variety of parasitic twins , where the developmentally abnormal parasitic twin is completely encapsulated within the torso of the otherwise normally developed host twin. In the late eighteenth century, German anatomist Johann Friedrich Meckel was the first to described fetus in fetu, which translates to “fetus within fetus.” Fetus in fetu is thought to result from the unequal division of the totipotent inner cell mass , the mass of cells that is the ancestral precursor to all cells in the body.

Subject: Theories, Disorders, Reproduction

August Karl Gustav Bier (1861–1949)

In the late nineteenth century, August Karl Gustav Bier was a surgeon in Germany who studied spinal cord anesthesia, later called spinal block. Bier found that, depending upon the amount of anesthesia introduced into the spinal cord, a large area of the human body could be numbed to various degrees. Bier established a procedure to numb individuals from the lower legs to the upper abdomen, with the individual’s numbness ranging from them feeling pressure on their body to them feeling nothing at all.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Adolf Ziegler

The scientific field of embryology experienced great growth in scope and direction in Germany from approximately 1850 to 1920. During this time, Adolf Ziegler and his son Friedrich crafted hundreds of wax embryo models, representing a shift in how embryos were viewed and used. Their final products, whether human or trout embryos, showcased the now lost collaboration between wax modeling artists and embryologists.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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

David Baltimore (1938– )

David Baltimore studied viruses and the immune system in the US during the twentieth century. In 1975, Baltimore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering reverse transcriptase, the enzyme used to transfer information from RNA to DNA. The discovery of reverse transcriptase contradicted the central dogma of biology at the time, which stated that the transfer of information was unidirectional from DNA, RNA, to protein.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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

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

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

Nicole Marthe Le Douarin (1930- )

Nicole Marthe Le Douarin was one of the first progressive female pioneers of developmental and embryological research. Some of her most notable and ground-breaking work involves grafting quail and chicken embryos together in order to study the developmental fate of each contributing embryo. Le Douarin was born in Brittany, France, on 20 August 1930. As an only child she was inspired by her mother, a school teacher at the time, to develop a passion for learning.

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

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

Hans Spemann (1869-1941)

Hans Spemann was an experimental embryologist best known for his transplantation studies and as the originator of the "organizer" concept. One of his earliest experiments involved constricting the blastomeres of a fertilized salamander egg with a noose of fine baby hair, resulting in a partially double embryo with two heads and one tail.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Pfeffer Cell Apparatus

The Pfeffer Zelle (Pfeffer Cell Apparatus), invented by Wilhelm Pfeffer in 1877, measured the minimum pressure needed to prevent a pure solvent from passing into a solution across a semi-permeable membrane, called osmotic pressure. The apparatus provided Pfeffer with a way to quantitatively measure osmotic pressure. Pfeffer devised the apparatus in the 1870s at the University of Basel in Basel, Switzerland, and he described the Pfeffer Cell Apparatus in his 1877 book Osmotische Untersuchungen: Studien Zur Zellmechanik (Osmotic Investigations: Studies on Cell Mechanics).

Format: Articles

Subject: Technology

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