Georges Cuvier, baptized Georges Jean-Leopold Nicolas-Frederic Cuvier, was a professor of anatomy at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Scholars recognize Cuvier as a founder of modern comparative anatomy, and as an important contributor to vertebrate paleontology and geology. Cuvier studied the form and function of animal anatomy, writing four volumes on quadruped fossils and co-writing eleven volumes on the natural history of fish with Achille Valenciennes. Moreover, Cuvier constructed a system of classification based on specific and well-articulated principles to help anatomists classify animal taxa. Cuvier had public debate in 1830 with Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a dispute centered on whether form or function matters most for the study of anatomy and whether the transmutation of organic forms can occur over time. Cuvier's opinions influenced the development of biology in France, and his arguments against transmutation of types influenced the reception of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection among many French naturalists.

Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, commonly known as Geoffroy, studied animals, their anatomy and their embryos, and teratogens at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Geoffroy also helped develop several specialized fields in the life sciences, including experimental embryology. In his efforts to experimentally demonstrate the theory of recapitulation, Geoffroy developed techniques to intervene in the growth of embryos to see whether they would develop into different kinds of organisms. Moreover, Geoffroy emphasized the concept of l'unite de composition (the unity of plan). Geoffroy disputed in 1830 with Georges Cuvier over whether form or function matters most for the study of anatomy and whether the transformation of organic forms can occur over time. Geoffroy's conceptual contributions, as well as his experimental research, influenced embryological research on animal morphology and teratogens, and later the field of evolutionary paleontology.

Francois Jacob studied in bacteria and bacteriophages at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1965, Jacob won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Andre M. Lwoff and Jacques L. Monod for their work on the genetic control of enzyme synthesis. Jacob studied how genes control and regulate metabolic enzymes in the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) and in lysogenic bacterial systems. He contributed to theories of transcriptional gene regulation, the operon model, and the distinction between structural and regulatory genes. Jacob also introduced the concept of bricolage (tinkering) in evolutionary biology.

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 history on the evolution of life, made evident by molecular data, provides an alternative account of the patterns depicting the history of life on earth. Jacob's essay contributed to genetic research in the late twentieth century that emphasized certain types of topics in evolutionary and developmental biology, such as genetic regulation, gene duplication events, and the genetic program of embryonic development. It also proposed why, in future research, biologists should expect to discover an underlying similarity in the molecular structure of genomes, and that they should expect to find many imperfections in evolutionary history despite the influence of natural selection.

Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov studied phagocytes, immune function, and starfish embryos in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mechnikov adopted the French form of his name, Élie Metchnikoff, in the last twenty-five years of his life. In 1908, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Paul Ehrlich for their contributions to immunology. Mechnikov discovered phagocytes, immune cells that protect organisms by ingesting foreign particles or microorganisms, by conducting experiments on starfish larvae. He then developed a theory of the cellular process involving phagocytes, known as phagocytosis, to explain how inflammation is a part of the self defense system found in both vertebrates and invertebrates. His experimental work was part of the tradition of evolutionary embryology, which emerged in the decades following the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, and was influenced by Ernst Haeckel's concept of the biogenetic law.

L'Institut Pasteur (The Pasteur Institute) is a non-profit private research institution founded by Louis Pasteur on 4 June 1887 in Paris, France. The Institute's research focuses on the study of infectious diseases, micro-organisms, viruses, and vaccines. As of 2014, ten scientists have received Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine for the research they have done at the Pasteur Institute. Contrary to the way genetics was studied in US research universities during the mid-twentieth century, the genetic research conducted at the Pasteur Institute at the same time did not rest on a conceptual separation between embryology and evolution. According to historian Michel Morange from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, France, this difference enabled Pasteurian scientists to develop the concepts of regulatory genes and of developmental genes.

Lysogenic bacteria, or virus-infected bacteria, were the primary experimental models used by scientists working in the laboratories of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, during the 1950s and 1960s. Historians of science have noted that the use of lysogenic bacteria as a model in microbiological research influenced the scientific achievements of the Pasteur Institute's scientists. Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod used lysogenic bacteria to develop their operon model of gene regulation, to investigate the cellular regulatory mechanisms of the lysogenic life cycle, and to infer the process of cellular differentiation in the development of more complex eukaryotes.

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. He spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he later established his own school called the Lyceum. Aristotle wrote greater than 150 treatises on subjects ranging from aesthetics, politics, ethics, and natural philosophy, which include physics and biology. Less than fifty of Aristotle's treatises persisted into the twenty-first century. In natural philosophy, later called natural science, Aristotle established methods for investigation and reasoning and provided a theory on how embryos generate and develop. He originated the theory that an organism develops gradually from undifferentiated material, later called epigenesis.

In 1830, a dispute erupted in the halls of lÕAcad mie des Sciences in Paris between the two most prominent anatomists of the nineteenth century. Georges Cuvier and tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, once friends and colleagues at the Paris Museum, became arch rivals after this historical episode. Like many important disputes in the history of science, this debate echoes several points of contrasts between the two thinkers. The two French Ânaturalists not only disagreed about what sorts of comparisons between vertebrates were acceptable, but also about which principles ought to underlie a rational system of animal taxonomy and guide the study of animal anatomy. Digging deeper into their differences, their particular disagreements over specific issues within zoology and anatomy culminated in the articulation of two competing and divergent philosophical views on the aims and methods of the life sciences. The emergence of these two distinct positions has had a lasting impact in the development of evolutionary and developmental biology. This essay will provide an overview of the conceptual themes of the debate, its implications for the development of the life sciences, and its role in the history of embryology and developmental biology.

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