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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

Chemical Induction

Research in chemical induction seeks to identify the compound or compounds responsible for differentiation in a developing embryo. Soren Lovtrup compared the search for these compounds to the search for the philosopher's stone. It was based on the assumption that the differentiating agents have to be chemical substances either within cells or in the extracellular matrix.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Alfred Day Hershey (1908–1997)

During the twentieth century in the United States, Alfred Day Hershey studied phages, or viruses that infect bacteria, and experimentally verified that genes were made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Genes are molecular, heritable instructions for how an organism develops. When Hershey started to study phages, scientists did not know if phages contained genes, or whether genes were made of DNA or protein. In 1952, Hershey and his research assistant, Martha Chase, conducted phage experiments that convinced scientists that genes were made of DNA.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Solomon A. Berson (1918-1972)

Solomon A. Berson helped develop the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique in the US during the twentieth century. Berson made many scientific contributions while working with research partner Rosalyn Yalow at the Bronx Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, in New York City, New York. In the more than twenty years that Berson and Yalow collaborated, they refined the procedures for tracing diagnostic biological compounds using isotope labels.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

"Human Factor IX Transgenic Sheep Produced by Transfer of Nuclei from Transfected Fetal Fibroblasts" (1997), by Angelika E. Schnieke, et al.

In the 1990s, researchers working at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, performed cloning experiments in collaboration with PPL Therapeutics in Roslin, Scotland, on human coagulation factor IX, a protein. The team of scientists used the methods identified during the Dolly experiments to produce transgenic livestock capable of producing milk containing human blood clotting factor IX, which helps to treat a type of hemophilia.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Biological Clocks and the Formation of Human Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel contains relics of its formation process, in the form of microstructures, which indicate the incremental way in which it forms. These microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, develop as enamel-forming cells called ameloblasts, whcih cyclically deposit enamel on developing teeth in accordance with two different biological clocks. Cross-striations result from a twenty-four hour cycle, called a Circadian rhythm, in the enamel deposition process, while striae of Retzius have a longer periodicity.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Max Ludwig Henning Delbruck (1906–1981)

Max Ludwig Henning Delbrick applied his knowledge of theoretical physics to biological systems such as bacterial viruses called bacteriophages, or phages, and gene replication during the twentieth century in Germany and the US. Delbrück demonstrated that bacteria undergo random genetic mutations to resist phage infections. Those findings linked bacterial genetics to the genetics of higher organisms. In the mid-twentieth century, Delbrück helped start the Phage Group and Phage Course in the US, which further organized phage research.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Elsie Franklin worked with X-ray crystallography at King's College London, UK, and she helped determine the helical structure of DNA in the early 1950s. Franklin's research helped establish molecular genetics, a field that investigates how heredity works on the molecular level. The discovery of the structure of DNA also made future research possible into the molecular basis of embryonic development, genetic disorders, and gene manipulation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

“Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus: Implications for Male Reproductive Function” (2007), by Ishola Agbaje, Deirdre Rogers, Carmel McVicar, Neil McClure, Albert Atkinson, Con Mallidis, and Sheena Lewis

In 2007, Ishola Agbaje, Deirdre Rogers, Carmel McVicar, Neil McClure, Albert Atkinson, Con Mallidis, and Sheena Lewis published “Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus: Implications for Male Reproductive Function,” hereby “Diabetes Mellitus: Implications,” in the journal Human Reproduction. In their article, the authors explore the effects of elevated blood sugar in the form of diabetes mellitus on the quality of male sperm.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Disorders

John Bertrand Gurdon (1933- )

Sir John Bertrand Gurdon further developed nuclear transplantation, the technique used to clone organisms and to create stem cells, while working in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. Gurdon's research built on the work of Thomas King and Robert Briggs in the United States, who in 1952 published findings that indicated that scientists could take a nucleus from an early embryonic cell and successfully transfer it into an unfertilized and enucleated egg cell.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Telomerase in Human Development

Telomerase is an enzyme that regulates the lengths of telomeres in the cells of many organisms, and in humans it begins to function int the early stages of embryonic development. Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that protect chromosomes from sticking to each other or tangling. In 1989, Gregg Morin found that telomerase was present in human cells. In 1996, Woodring Wright and his team examined human embryonic cells and found that telomerase was active in them. Scientists manipulate telomerase in cells to give cells the capacity to replicate infinitely.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Allan Charles Wilson (1934-1991)

Allan C. Wilson studied genes, proteins, and body structures of animals and humans in the US during the second half of the twentieth century. Wilson also studied human evolution. Although morphology and behaviors of humans (Homo sapiens) and great apes differ, Wilson found that they have biochemical and genetic similarities. Wilson and his colleagues calculated the time period of humans' and African apes' common ancestor.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

"A Genomic Regulatory Network for Development" (2002), by Eric H. Davidson, et al.

In 2002 Eric Davidson and his research team published 'A Genomic Regulatory Network for Development' in Science. The authors present the first experimental verification and systemic description of a gene regulatory network. This publication represents the culmination of greater than thirty years of work on gene regulation that began in 1969 with 'A Gene Regulatory Network for Development: A Theory' by Roy Britten and Davidson. The modeling of a large number of interactions in a gene network had not been achieved before.

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

Sex-determining Region Y in Mammals

The Sex-determining Region Y (Sry in mammals but SRY in humans) is a gene found on Y chromosomes that leads to the development of male phenotypes, such as testes. The Sry gene, located on the short branch of the Y chromosome, initiates male embryonic development in the XY sex determination system. The Sry gene follows the central dogma of molecular biology; the DNA encoding the gene is transcribed into messenger RNA, which then produces a single Sry protein.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

Golden Rice

Golden Rice was engineered from normal rice by Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer in the 1990s to help improve human health. Golden Rice has an engineered multi-gene biochemical pathway in its genome. This pathway produces beta-carotene, a molecule that becomes vitamin A when metabolized by humans. Ingo Potrykus worked at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and Peter Beyer worked at University of Freiburg, in Freiburg, Germany. The US Rockefeller Foundation supported their collaboration.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organisms, Legal

“Does Air Pollution Play a Role in Infertility?: a Systematic Review” (2017), by Julie Carré, Nicolas Gatimel, Jessika Moreau, Jean Parinaud and Roger Léandri

In 2017, Julie Carré, Nicolas Gatimel, Jessika Moreau, Jean Parinaud, and Roger Léandri published “Does Air Pollution Play a Role in Infertility?: a Systematic Review,” hereafter “Does Air Pollution Play a Role,” in the journal Environmental Health. The authors completed a systematic literature review to investigate the effects of air pollutants on fertility in exposed populations.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Reproduction

Regeneration

Regeneration is a fascinating phenomenon. The fact that many organisms have the capacity to regenerate lost parts and even remake complete copies of themselves is difficult to fathom; so difficult, in fact, that for a very long time people were reluctant to believe regeneration actually took place. It seemed unbelievable that some organisms could re-grow lost limbs, organs, and other body parts. If only we could do the same!

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

"The Development of the Turtle Carapace" (1989), by Ann Campbell Burke

Ann Campbell Burke examines the development and evolution of vertebrates, in particular, turtles. Her Harvard University experiments, described in Development of the Turtle Carapace: Implications for the Evolution of a Novel Bauplan, were published in 1989. Burke used molecular techniques to investigate the developmental mechanisms responsible for the formation of the turtle shell.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Publications

“A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids” (1953) by Linus Pauling and Robert Brainard Corey

In February 1953, Linus Pauling and Robert Brainard Corey, two scientists working at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, proposed a structure for deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in their article “A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids,” henceforth “Nucleic Acids.” In the article, Pauling and Corey suggest a model for nucleic acids, including DNA, that consisted of three nucleic acid strands wound together in a triple helix.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

"On the Origin of Mitosing Cells" (1967), by Lynn Sagan

On the Origin of Mitosing Cells by Lynn Sagan appeared in the March 1967 edition of the Journal of Theoretical Biology. At the time the article was published, Lynn Sagan had divorced astronomer Carl Sagan, but kept his last name. Later, she remarried and changed her name to Lynn Margulis, and will be referred to as such throughout this article. In her 1967 article, Margulis develops a theory for the origin of complex cells that have enclosed nuclei, called eukaryotic cells.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Theories

Hedgehog Signaling Pathway

The hedgehog signaling pathway is a mechanism that directs the development of embryonic cells in animals, from invertebrates to vertebrates. The hedgehog signaling pathway is a system of genes and gene products, mostly proteins, that convert one kind of signal into another, called transduction. In 1980, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus, at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, identified several fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) genes.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes

"Development, Plasticity and Evolution of Butterfly Eyespot Patterns" (1996), by Paul M. Brakefield et al.

Paul M. Brakefield and his research team in Leiden, the Netherlands, examined the development, plasticity, and evolution of butterfly eyespot patterns, and published their findings in Nature in 1996. Eyespots are eye-shaped color patterns that appear on the wings of some butterflies and birds as well as on the skin of some fish and reptiles. In butterflies, such as the peacock butterfly Aglais, the eyespots resemble the eyes of birds and help butterflies deter potential predators.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

The e-Mouse Atlas Project (1992- )

The Edinburgh Mouse Atlas, also called the e-Mouse Atlas Project (EMAP), is an online resource comprised of the e-Mouse Atlas (EMA), a detailed digital model of mouse development, and the e-Mouse Atlas of Gene Expression (EMAGE), a database that identifies sites of gene expression in mouse embryos. Duncan Davidson and Richard Baldock founded the project in 1992, and the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, funds the project.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

Revive & Restore (2012– )

Revive and Restore is a California-based nonprofit that uses genetic engineering to help solve conservation problems, such as saving endangered species and increasing the biodiversity of ecosystems. To facilitate their solutions, Revive and Restore utilizes genetic engineering, which is the process of making changes to an organism’s DNA, or the set of instructions for how an organism develops and functions.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations, Theories