Boris Ephrussi studied fruit flies, yeast, and mouse genetics and development while working in France and the US during the twentieth century. In yeast, Ephrussi studied how mutations in the cytoplasm persisted across generations. In mice he studied the genetics of hybrids and the development of cancer. Working with George Wells Beadle on the causes of different eye colors in fruit flies, Ephrussi's research helped establish the one-gene-one-enzyme hypothesis. Ephrussi helped create new embryological techniques and contributed the theories of genetics and development.

The one gene-one enzyme hypothesis, proposed by George Wells Beadle in the US in 1941, is the theory that each gene directly produces a single enzyme, which consequently affects an individual step in a metabolic pathway. In 1941, Beadle demonstrated that one gene in the bread mold Neurospora controlled a single, specific chemical reaction in Neurospora, which one enzyme controlled. In the 1950s, the theory that genes produce enzymes that control a single metabolic step was dubbed the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis by Norman Horowitz, a professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and an associate of Beadle's. This concept helped researchers characterize genes as chemical molecules, and it helped them identify the functions of those molecules.

George Wells Beadle and Edward Lawrie Tatum's 1941 article Genetic Control of Biochemical Reactions in Neurospora detailed their experiments on how genes regulated chemical reactions, and how the chemical reactions in turn affected development in the organism. Beadle and Tatum experimented on Neurospora, a type of bread mold, and they concluded that mutations to genes affected the enzymes of organisms, a result that biologists later generalized to proteins, not just enzymes. Beadle and Tatum's experiments provided an early link between genetics and the field of molecular biology.

George Wells Beadle studied corn, fruit flies, and funguses in the US during the twentieth century. These studies helped Beadle earn the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Beadle shared the prize with Edward Tatum for their discovery that genes help regulate chemical processes in and between cells. This finding, initially termed the one gene-one enzyme hypothesis, helped scientists develop new techniques to study genes and DNA as molecules, not just as units of heredity between generations of organisms. By inducing mutations in organisms while they were in different embryonic stages, Beadle's work on Drosophila and Neurospora led to the analysis of the cell cycle and embryonic development processes.

St. George Jackson Mivart studied animals and worked in England during the nineteenth century. He also proposed a theory of organismal development that he called individuation, and he critiqued Charles Darwin's argument for evolution by natural selection. His work on prosimians, a group of primates excluding apes and monkeys, helped scientists better investigate the Primate group. In his work On the Genesis of Species, Mivart argued that Darwin's theory couldn't explain how specific organismal forms developed and varied, explanations Mivart argued were necessary before Darwin could invoke the mechanism of natural selection to explain the evolution of species. To provide those explanations Mivart proposed theories of individuation and of instinct.

Boris Ephrussi and George Wells Beadle developed a transplantation technique on flies, Drosophila melanogaster, which they described in their 1936 article A Technique of Transplantation for Drosophila. The technique of injecting a tissue from one fly larva into another fly larva, using a micropipette, to grow that tissue in the second larvae, was a means for investigating development of Drosophila. Through this technique, Beadle and Ephrussi studied the role of genes in embryological processes. Beadle and Ephrussi were the first to apply the transplantation method, which had previously been used in the study of larger insects, to the smaller sized Drosophila. Beadle and Ephrussi used this method of transplantation to determine if parts of the optic disc, the section of a larvae that later become the eye buds in the adult, could be extracted from one larva and transplanted into another. They later built upon this research to relate the production of molecules in cells to gene function.

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