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. Brakefield's research team described the stages through which eyespots develop, identified the genes and environmental signals that affect eye-spot appearance in some species, and demonstrated that small genetic variations can change butterfly eyespot color and shape. The research focused on a few butterfly species, but it contributed to more general claims of how the environment may affect the development of coloration and how specific color patterns may have evolved.

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. Weismann also promoted Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of the evolution of species. Weismann argued that only changes to the germ cells, and not body cells, could be inherited, a theory that influenced theories of heredity throughout later centuries.

Dizhou Tong, also called Ti Chou Tung, studied marine animals and helped introduce and organize experimental embryology in China during the twentieth century. He introduced cellular nuclear transfer technology to the Chinese biological community, developed methods to clone organisms from many marine species, and investigated the role of cytoplasm in early development. Tong's administrative and scientific leadership in the fields of marine, cellular, and developmental biology contributed to China's experimental embryology research programs.

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 germ plasm, a substance in the germ cell that carries hereditary information. The Germ-Plasm compiled Weismann's theoretical work and analyses of other biologists' experimental work in the 1880s, and it provided a framework to study development, evolution and heredity. Weismann anticipated that the germ-plasm theory would enable researchers to investigate the functions and material of hereditary substances.

Green fluorescent protein (GFP) is a protein in the jellyfish Aequorea Victoria that exhibits green fluorescence when exposed to light. The protein has 238 amino acids, three of them (Numbers 65 to 67) form a structure that emits visible green fluorescent light. In the jellyfish, GFP interacts with another protein, called aequorin, which emits blue light when added with calcium. Biologists use GFP to study cells in embryos and fetuses during developmental processes.

In 1868 in England, Charles Darwin proposed his pangenesis theory to describe the units of inheritance between parents and offspring and the processes by which those units control development in offspring. Darwin coined the concept of gemmules, which he said referred to hypothesized minute particles of inheritance thrown off by all cells of the body. The theory suggested that an organism's environment could modify the gemmules in any parts of the body, and that these modified gemmules would congregate in the reproductive organs of parents to be passed on to their offspring. Darwin's theory of pangenesis gradually lost popularity in the 1890s when biologists increasingly abandoned the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics (IAC), on which the pangenesis theory partially relied. Around the turn of the twentieth century, biologists replaced the theory of pangenesis with germ plasm theory and then with chromosomal theories of inheritance, and they replaced the concept of gemmules with that of genes.

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