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The term homunculus is Latin for "little man." It is used in neurology today to describe the map in the brain of sensory neurons in each part of the body (the somatosensory homunculus). An early use of the word was in the 1572 work by Paracelsus regarding forays into alchemy, De Natura Rerum, in which he gave instructions in how to create an infant human without fertilization or gestation in the womb. In the history of embryology, the homunculus was part of the Enlightenment-era theory of generation called preformationism.
Spermism was one of two models of preformationism, a theory of embryo generation prevalent in the late seventeenth through the end of the eighteenth century. Spermist preformationism was the belief that offspring develop from a tiny fully-formed fetus contained within the head of a sperm cell. This model developed slightly later than the opposing ovist model because sperm cells were not seen under the microscope until about 1677.
"Experimental Chimeras' Removal of Reproductive Barrier Between Sheep and Goat" (1984), by Sabine Meinecke-Tillmann and Burkhard Meinecke
In 1984 Sabine Meinecke-Tillmann and Burkhard Meinecke published their article "Experimental Chimeras - Removal of Reproductive Barrier Between Sheep and Goat" in Nature. Their study conquered the reproductive barrier between sheep and goats through embryo manipulation. Their article appeared in Nature on the same day that a similar experiment, conducted by Carole Fehilly, Steen Willadsen, and Elizabeth Tucker was published regarding reproductive barriers between sheep and goats.
Laparoscopy, a subfield of endoscopy, is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to examine and operate on the internal organs of the abdomen through a small incision in the abdominal wall. The term "laparoscopy" is derived from two Greek words: laparo, meaning the soft space between hips and ribs, and skopie, meaning to examine. Today laparoscopy has broad clinical applications including for diagnosis, fertility procedures, visual representation, and surgery.
Subject: Technologies, Reproduction
Humanae Vitae (1968), by Pope Paul VI
The "Humanae Vitae," meaning "Of Human Life" and subtitled "On the Regulation of Birth," was an encyclical promulgated in Rome, Italy, on 25 July 1968 by Pope Paul VI. This encyclical defended and reiterated the Roman Catholic Church's stance on family planning and reproductive issues such as abortion, sterilization, and contraception. The document continues to have a controversial reputation today, as its statements regarding birth control strike many Catholics as unreasonable.
Subject: Religion, Reproduction
Samuel Randall Detwiler (1890-1957)
Samuel Randall Detwiler was an embryologist who studied neural development in embryos and vertebrate retinas. He discovered evidence for the relationship between somites and spinal ganglia, that transplanted limbs can be controlled by foreign ganglia, and the plasticity of ganglia in response to limb transplantations. He also extensively studied vertebrate retinas during and after embryonic development.
Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas
The principal work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Theologica is divided into three parts and is designed to instruct both beginners and experts in all matters of Christian Truth. It discusses topics central to Christian morality, ethics, law, and the life of Christ, providing philosophical and theological solutions to common arguments and questions surrounding the Christian faith. The views presented in this body of writing are currently upheld in large part by the modern doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
Leonardo da Vinci's Embryological Annotations
Among his myriad scientific and artistic contributions, Leonardo da Vinci's work in embryology was groundbreaking. He observed and diagramed the previously undemonstrated position of the fetus in the womb with detailed accompanying annotations of his observations. Leonardo was highly paranoid of plagiarism and wrote all of his notes in mirror-like handwriting laden with his own codes, making his writing difficult to discern and delaying its impact.
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.
Smith v. Cote (1986)
The case of Smith v. Cote (1986) answered two important questions concerning law and childbirth: does the State of New Hampshire recognize a cause of action for what is defined as wrongful birth, and does the State recognize a cause of action for what is classified as wrongful life? In the case of Smith v. Cote, damages were permitted for wrongful birth, but not for the action of wrongful life.
Dietrich v. Inhabitants of Northampton [Brief] (1884)
This influential opinion by famed jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was copied by courts throughout the United States. For over sixty years, courts refused to recognize a cause of action on behalf of a child who died before or after birth as a result of injuries suffered in the womb because the fetus was considered legally a part of its mother and thus did not possess personhood. This policy changed after the decision in Bonbrest v. Kotz in 1946.
Karl Wilhelm Theodor Richard von Hertwig (1850-1937)
Karl Wilhelm Theodor Richard von Hertwig is an important figure in the history of embryology for his contributions of artificial hybridization of sea urchin eggs and the formulation of his coelom theory. He was born 23 September 1850 in Friedelberg, Germany, to Elise Trapp and Carl Hertwig. Richard and his older brother Oscar began their studies at Jena under the direction of Ernst Haeckel from 1868 to 1871. In 1872 Hertwig became a lecturer in zoology at Jena while Oscar lectured in anatomy and embryology.
United States v. University Hospital (1984)
The US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals' 1984 decision United States v. University Hospital, State University Hospital of New York at Stony Brook set a significant precedent for affirming parental privilege to make medical decisions for handicapped newborns, while limiting the ability of the federal government to intervene. The ruling stemmed from the 1983 case involving an infant born with severe physical and mental congenital defects; the infant was only identified as Baby Jane Doe.
Subject: Legal, Reproduction
Chorionic Villus Sampling
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a test used for prenatal diagnosis. Safe to perform at an earlier stage in pregnancy than amniocentesis, CVS is another invasive prenatal diagnostic test that can be performed as early as ten weeks after the woman's last menstrual cycle. While this test does carry some risks, it is generally very effective at predicting heritable diseases during or soon after the embryonic stage of development.
Nicolaas Hartsoeker (1656-1725)
Nicolaas Hartsoeker, a Dutch astronomer, optics manufacturer, and naturalist, was born 26 March 1656 in Gouda, Netherlands, and died 10 December 1725. His mother was Anna van der Mey and his father was Christiaan Hartsoeker, a prominent evangelical minister. His major contribution to embryology was his observations of human sperm cells, which he claimed to be the first to see under a microscope. His sketch of the homunculus, a tiny preformed human he believed to exist in the head of spermatazoa, is his lasting scientific legacy in the field of embryology.
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was born in Delft, the Netherlands, on 24 October 1632 to Margriet Jacobsdochter van den Berch and Philips Thooniszoon, both of whom were middle-class artisans. He attended grammar school in Warmond, and then temporarily moved to Benthuizen to live with relatives. Eventually Leeuwenhoek left for Amsterdam to work as a cloth merchant's apprentice. Returning to Delft, he married Barbara de Mey on 29 July 1654, and worked as a shopkeeper. The marriage resulted in five children, only one of whom, Maria, outlived Leeuwenhoek.
In re Marriage of Witten (2003)
In re Marriage of Witten, decided by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2003, held that neither Tamera nor Arthur (Trip) Witten could use or destroy several cryopreserved preembryos created during their marriage using in vitro fertilization (IVF), unless the former couple could reach a mutual agreement. Tamera and Trip Witten, unable to conceive conventionally during their marriage, had attempted to start a family together using IVF at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, Nebraska.
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.
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.
Corticosteroids' Effect on Fetal Lung Maturation (1972), by Sir Graham Collingwood Liggins and Ross Howie
In a clinical trial from 1969 to 1972, Sir Graham Collingwood Liggins and Ross Howie showed that if doctors treat pregnant women with corticosteroids before those women deliver prematurely, then those women's infants have fewer cases of respiratory distress syndrome than do similarly premature infants of women not treated with corticosteroids. Prior to the study, premature infants born before 32 weeks of gestation often died of respiratory distress syndrome, or the inability to inflate immature lungs.
"Experiments in Plant Hybridization" (1866), by Johann Gregor Mendel
During the mid-nineteenth century, Johann Gregor Mendel experimented with pea plants to develop a theory of inheritance. In 1843, while a monk in the Augustian St Thomas's Abbey in Brünn, Austria, now Brno, Czech Repubic, Mendel examined the physical appearance of the abbey's pea plants (Pisum sativum) and noted inconsistencies between what he saw and what the blending theory of inheritance, a primary model of inheritance at the time, predicted.
Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)
In Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the US Supreme Court held in a five-to-four decision that the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by the US Congress was constitutional. Although the Court previously ruled in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) that a Nebraska law that prohibited partial-birth abortions was unconstitutional, Gonzales reversed this decision. Gonzales created the precedent that anyone who delivers and kills a living fetus could be subject to legal consequences, unless he or she performed the procedure to save the life of the mother.
Subject: Legal, Reproduction
George Richard Tiller (1941-2009)
George Richard Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions in Wichita, Kansas, was shot to death on 31 May 2009 by Scott Roeder. As the director of one of only a small number of clinics in the US that performed legal late-term abortions, Tiller was a target for anti-abortion activists. Though Tiller lived and worked in Kansas, his work agitated anti-abortion groups and fueled the controversy surrounding abortion at a national level. Tiller's life and death fueled the abortion debate in the US.
Subject: People, Reproduction
"Screening for Congenital Hypothyroidism" (1991), by Delbert A. Fisher
In his 1991 article Screening for Congenital Hypothyroidism, Delbert A. Fisher in the US reported on the implementation and impact of mass neonatal screening programs for congenital hypothyroidism (CH) from the early 1970s through 1991. CH is a condition that causes stunted mental and physical development in newborns unless treatment begins within the first three months of the newborn's life. In the early 1970s, regions in Canada and the US had implemented screening programs to diagnose and treat CH as quickly as possible after the infant's birth.
Subject: Publications, Technologies
Marcello Malpighi (1646-1694)
Marcello Malpighi studied chick embryos with microscopes in Italy during the seventeenth century. Trained as a medical doctor, he was among the first scientists to use the microscope to examine embryos at very early stages. Malpighi described early structures in chick embryos, and later scientists used his descriptions to help develop the theory of preformationism.