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.
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.
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.
The Spemann-Mangold organizer, also known as the Spemann organizer, is a cluster of cells in the developing embryo of an amphibian that induces development of the central nervous system. Hilde Mangold was a PhD candidate who conducted the organizer experiment in 1921 under the direction of her graduate advisor, Hans Spemann, at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, German. The discovery of the Spemann-Mangold organizer introduced the concept of induction in embryonic development. Now integral to the field of developmental biology, induction is the process by which the identity of certain cells influences the developmental fate of surrounding cells. Spemann received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935 for his work in describing the process of induction in amphibians. The Spemann-Mangold organizer drew the attention of embryologists, and it spurred numerous experiments on the nature of induction in many types of developing embryos.
Matthew Kaufman was a professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh, in Edinburgh, UK, who specialized in mouse anatomy, development, and embryology during the late twentieth century. According to the The Herald, he was the first, alongside his colleague Martin Evans, to isolate and culture embryonic stem cells. Researchers initially called those cells Evans-Kaufman cells. In 1992, Kaufman published The Atlas of Mouse Development, a book that included photographs of mice development and mice organs over time. Kaufman also wrote books about UK medical history, phrenology, or the study of craniums as an indicator of character or mental ability, and medical teaching in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Kaufman’s anatomical records and experiments in mouse development contributed to genetic engineering, embryology, and anatomy.
Eduard Friedrich Wilhelm Pflüger was a physiologist known for his research on respiration, the respiratory quotient, experimenting on the effects of electricity on muscles and nerves, and his study of the ovaries and egg development. His experiments on how the gravitational orientation of frog eggs affects their cleavage plane inspired embryologists such as Wilhelm Roux and Gustav Born to conduct their own experiments using frog eggs.
Leo Loeb developed an experimental approach to studying cancer and pioneered techniques for tissue culture and in vitro tissue transplantation which impacted early-to-mid twentieth century experimental embryology. Loeb received his medical degree from the University of Zurich in 1897. As part of his doctorate, he completed a thesis on the outcomes of tissue transplantation in guinea pigs. Loeb's thesis inspired a life-long interest in tissue transplantation. His research culminated in greater than 400 publications, including a book called The Biological Basis of Individuality, in which he demonstrated the potential immortality of certain mammalian tissues.