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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

Wilhelm Johannsen's Genotype-Phenotype Distinction

Wilhelm Johannsen in Denmark first proposed the distinction between genotype and phenotype in the study of heredity in 1909. This distinction is between the hereditary dispositions of organisms (their genotypes) and the ways in which those dispositions manifest themselves in the physical characteristics of those organisms (their phenotypes). This distinction was an outgrowth of Johannsen's experiments concerning heritable variation in plants, and it influenced his pure line theory of heredity.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

Sheldon Clark Reed (1910-2003)

Sheldon Clark Reed helped establish the profession of genetic counseling in the US during the twentieth century. In 1947 Reed coined the term genetic counseling to describe the interaction of a doctor explaining to a patient the likelihood of passing a certain trait to their offspring. With physicians being able to test for genetic abnormalities like cystic fibrosis, Reed helped trained individuals give patients the tools to make informed decisions. In 1955 Reed published the book Counseling in Medical Genetics.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Muriel Wheldale Onslow (1880-1932)

Muriel Wheldale Onslow studied flowers in England with genetic and biochemical techniques in the early twentieth century. Working with geneticist William Bateson, Onslow used Mendelian principles and biochemical analysis together to understand the inheritance of flower colors at the beginning of the twentieth century. Onslow's study of snapdragons, or Antirrhinum majus, resulted in her description of epistasis, a phenomenon in which the phenotypic effect of one gene is influenced by one or more other genes. She discovered several biochemicals related to color formation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

“Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types: Induction of Transformation by a Desoxyribonucleic Acid Fraction Isolated from Pneumococcus Type III” (1944) by Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty

In 1944, Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty published an article in which they concluded that genes, or molecules that dictate how organisms develop, are made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The article is titled “Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types: Induction of Transformation by a Desoxyribonucleic Acid Fraction Isolated from Pneumococcus Type III,” hereafter “Transformation.” The authors isolated, purified, and characterized genes within bacteria and found evidence that those genes were made of DNA and not protein.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

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

40 Weeks (2014)

In 2014, Big Belli, a media and social networking brand, released a documentary called 40 Weeks online. The documentary, directed by Christopher Henze, followed multiple women during their pregnancies. The film predominantly features three women, though it includes the stories of many. Throughout the film, women detail their accounts of the physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)

Barbara McClintock worked on genetics in corn (maize) plants and spent most of her life conducting research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Laurel Hollow, New York. McClintock's research focused on reproduction and mutations in maize, and described the phenomenon of genetic crossover in chromosomes. Through her maize mutation experiments, McClintock observed transposons, or mobile elements of genes within the chromosome, which jump around the genome. McClintock received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for her research on chromosome transposition.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Mary-Claire King (1946– )

Mary-Claire King studied genetics in the US in the twenty-first century. King identified two genes associated with the occurrence of breast cancer, breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2 (BRCA2). King showed that mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes cause two types of reproductive cancer, breast and ovarian cancer. Because of King’s discovery, doctors can screen women for the inheritance of mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to evaluate their risks for breast and ovarian cancer.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Simon Edward Fisher (1970-)

Simon Edward Fisher studied the genes that control speech and language in England and the Netherlands in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In 2001, Fisher co-discovered the FOXP2 gene with Cecilia Lai, a gene related to language acquisition in humans and vocalization in other mammals. When damaged, the human version of the gene leads to language disorders that disrupt language and speech skills. Fisher's discovery validated the hypothesis that genes influence language, resulting in further investigations of language disorders and their heritability.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Wilhelm Ludvig Johannsen (1857-1927)

Wilhelm Ludvig Johannsen studied plants and helped found the field of genetics, contributing methods and concepts to the study of heredity around the turn of the twentieth century in Denmark. His experiments on heredity and variation in plants influenced the methods and techniques of geneticists, and his distinction between the genotype of an organism-its hereditary disposition-and its phenotype-its observable characteristics-remains at the core of contemporary biology. Johannsen criticized biological explanations that relied on concepts such as vitalism and teleology.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Franklin William Stahl (1929– )

Franklin William Stahl studied DNA replication, bacteriophages, and genetic recombination in the US during the mid-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. With his colleague Matthew Meselson, Stahl performed an experiment called the Meselson-Stahl experiment, which provided evidence for a process called semi-conservative DNA replication. Semi-conservative replication is a process in which each strand of a parental DNA double helix serves as a template for newly replicated daughter strands, so that one parental strand is conserved in every daughter double helix.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Jackson Laboratory

The Roscoe B. Jackson Laboratory, known commonly in the scientific field as the Jackson Laboratory, was founded by Clarence Cook Little in May 1929. The lab has been pivotal in research with in vitro fertilization, teratomas, gene replacement therapy for birth defects, and more because its researchers have focused from the beginning on developing the mouse as a model organism. Mice were chosen by researchers at Jackson as the best available model for genetic research, and today genetically uniform strains of mice developed at the lab are used in laboratories all over the world.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations

George McDonald Church (1954- )

George McDonald Church studied DNA from living and from extinct species in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Church helped to develop and refine techniques with which to describe the complete sequence of all the DNA nucleotides in an organism's genome, techniques such as multiplex sequencing, polony sequencing, and nanopore sequencing. Church also contributed to the Human Genome Project, and in 2005 he helped start a company, the Personal Genome Project. Church proposed to use DNA from extinct species to clone and breed new organisms from those species.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Technologies

Lap-Chee Tsui (1950-)

Lap-Chee Tsui is a geneticist who discovered the cystic fibrosis (CF) gene, and his research team sequenced human chromosome 7. As the location of the cystic fibrosis gene is now known, it is possible for doctors and specialists to identify in human fetuses the mutation that causes the fatal disease. Tsui's research also outlined the mechanisms for the development of cystic fibrosis, which were previously unknown.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE)

Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering, or MAGE, is a genome editing technique that enables scientists to quickly edit an organism’s DNA to produce multiple changes across the genome. In 2009, two genetic researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, Harris Wang and George Church, developed the technology during a time when researchers could only edit one site in an organism’s genome at a time.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies, 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

International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2001)

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, referred to as the Plant Treaty, was approved on 3 November 2001 by Members of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), headquartered in Rome, Italy. The FAO is an agency of the United Nations, headquartered in New York City, New York. The Plant Treaty established international standards for the conservation and exchange of plant genetic material between participating countries.

Subject: Legal

"Evolution and Tinkering" (1977), by Francois Jacob

In his essay Evolution and Tinkering, published in
Science in 1977, Francois Jacob argued that a common analogy
between the process of evolution by natural selection and the
methods of engineering is problematic. Instead, he proposed to
describe the process of evolution with the concept of
bricolage (tinkering). In this essay, Jacob did not deny the
importance of the mechanism of natural selection in shaping complex
adaptations. Instead, he maintained that the cumulative effects of

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, 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

Hermann Joseph Muller's Study of X-rays as a Mutagen, (1926-1927)

Hermann Joseph Muller conducted three experiments in 1926 and 1927 that demonstrated that exposure to x-rays, a form of high-energy radiation, can cause genetic mutations, changes to an organism's genome, particularly in egg and sperm cells. In his experiments, Muller exposed fruit flies (Drosophila) to x-rays, mated the flies, and observed the number of mutations in the offspring. In 1927, Muller described the results of his experiments in "Artificial Transmutation of the Gene" and "The Problem of Genic Modification".

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

Ethics of Designer Babies

A designer baby is a baby genetically engineered in vitro for specially selected traits, which can vary from lowered disease-risk to gender selection. Before the advent of genetic engineering and in vitro fertilization (IVF), designer babies were primarily a science fiction concept. However, the rapid advancement of technology before and after the turn of the twenty-first century makes designer babies an increasingly real possibility.

Format: Articles

Subject: Ethics, Reproduction

Ian Wilmut (1944- )

British embryologist Sir Ian Wilmut, best known for his work in the field of animal genetic engineering and the successful cloning of sheep, was born 7 July 1944 in Hampton Lucy, England. The family later moved to Scarborough, in the north of the country, to allow his father to accept a teaching position. There Wilmut met Gordon Whalley, head of the biology department at Scarborough High School for Boys, which Wilmut attended.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

John D. Gearhart

John D. Gearhart is a renowned American developmental geneticist best known for leading the Johns Hopkins University research team that first identified and isolated human pluripotent stem cells from human primordial germ cells, the precursors of fully differentiated germ cells. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Gearhart lived on the family farm located in the Allegheny Mountains for the first six years of his life.

Format: Articles

Subject: People