In Australia in the 1940s, Norman McAlister Gregg observed a connection between pregnant women who contracted the rubella virus, or German measles, and cataract formation in their children's eyes. Gregg published his findings in the 1941 article Congenital Cataract following German Measles in the Mother in Transactions of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia. In the article, Gregg analyzed seventy-eight cases of congenital cataracts and suggested that the mothers' environmental factors could cause birth defects, otherwise known as teratogenic effects. Gregg's paper on the teratogenic effects of an environmental agent, the rubella virus, changed the study of birth defects to include viruses as potential causes or teratogens.

Johann Friedrich Meckel and Antoine Etienne Reynaud Augustin Serres developed in the early 1800s the basic principles of what later became called the Meckel-Serres Law. Meckel and Serres both argued that fetal deformities result when development prematurely stops, and they argued that these arrests characterized lower life forms, through which higher order organisms progress during normal development. The concept that the embryos of higher order organisms progress through successive stages in which they resemble lower level forms is called recapitulation. Meckel, a professor of anatomy at the University of Halle in Halle, Germany, and Serres, a physician at Hotel-Dieu de Paris in Paris, France, did not work together. Rather, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, their similar approaches, in which they compared the anatomy and embryos of different species so as to relate stages of embryonic development to the scala naturae, led oher scientists to generalize their individual concepts into one general theory. The recapitulation ideas of Meckel and Serres became part of the mid-eighteenth century debate about how to explain morphological similarities between species.

Johann Friedrich Meckel studied abnormal animal and human anatomy in nineteenth century Germany in an attempt to explain embryological development. During Meckel's lifetime he catalogued embryonic malformations in multiple treatises. Meckel's focus on malformations led him to develop concepts like primary and secondary malformations, atavism, and recapitulation- all of which influenced the fields of medicine and embryology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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.

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