Edmund Beecher Wilson contributed to cell biology, the study of cells, in the US during the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. His three editions of The Cell in Development and Inheritance (or Heredity) in 1896, 1900, and 1925 introduced generations of students to cell biology. In The Cell, Wilson described the evidence and theories of his time about cells and identified topics for future study. He helped show how each part of the cell works during cell division and in every step of early development of an organism. Developmental biologists trained in the mid-twentieth century reported WilsonÕs text as their foundation for understanding biology, including about how cells, development, heredity, and evolution interact. Wilson considered cells as the center of all biological phenomena.
Walter Stanborough Sutton studied grasshoppers and connected the phenomena of meiosis, segregation, and independent assortment with the chromosomal theory of inheritance in the early twentieth century in the US. Sutton researched chromosomes, then called inheritance mechanisms. He confirmed a theory of Wilhelm Roux, who studied embryos in Breslau, Germany, in the late 1880s, who had argued that chromosomes and heredity were linked. Theodor Boveri, working in Munich, Germany, independently reached similar conclusions about heredity as Sutton. Later scientists named the theory The Sutton-Boveri Theory, or The chromosomal theory of inheritance.
Edmund Beecher Wilson experimented with Amphioxus (Branchiostoma) embryos in 1892 to identify what caused their cells to differentiate into new types of cells during the process of development. Wilson shook apart the cells at early stages of embryonic development, and he observed the development of the isolated cells. He observed that in the normal development of Amphioxus, all three main types of symmetry, or cleavage patterns observed in embryos, could be found. Wilson proposed a hypothesis that reformed the Mosaic Theory associated with Wilhelm Roux in Germany. Wilson suggested that cells differentiated into other cells when influenced by physiological (dynamic) changes in the hereditary substance contained in cells, and not because of the qualitative division, or parcelling out, of the substance into daughter cells. Wilson published his results in August 1893.
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.
Theodor Boveri investigated the mechanisms of heredity. He developed the chromosomal theory of inheritance and the idea of chromosomal individuality. Boveri sought to provide a comprehensive explanation for the hereditary role and behavior of chromosomes. He hoped that his experiments would also help to distinguish the roles of the nucleus and the cytoplasm in embryogenesis. Boveri was particularly interested in how offspring are shaped by the attributes of their parents. His exhaustive studies of chromosomal and cellular behavior during early development paved the way for much of the emerging field of embryology.
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.