Oswald Theodore Avery studied strains of pneumococcus of the genus Streptococcus in the US in the first half of the twentieth century. This bacterium causes pneumonia, a common cause of death at the turn of the twentieth century. In a 1944 paper, Avery demonstrated with colleagues Colin Munro MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty that deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, instead of protein, formed the material of heritable transformation in bacteria. Avery helped untangle some of the relationships between genes and developmental processes.
Neurocristopathies are a class of pathologies in vertebrates, including humans, that result from abnormal expression, migration, differentiation, or death of neural crest cells (NCCs) during embryonic development. NCCs are cells derived from the embryonic cellular structure called the neural crest. Abnormal NCCs can cause a neurocristopathy by chemically affecting the development of the non-NCC tissues around them. They can also affect the development of NCC tissues, causing defective migration or proliferation of the NCCs. There are many neurocristopathies that affect many different types of systems. Some neurocristopathies result in albinism (piebaldism) and cleft palate in humans. Various pigment, skin, thyroid, and hearing disorders, craniofacial and heart abnormalities, malfunctions of the digestive tract, and tumors can be classified as neurocristopathies. This classification ties a variety of disorders to one embryonic origin.
In 1616 in Padua, Italy, Fortunio Liceti, a professor of natural philosophy and medicine, wrote and published the first edition of De Monstruorum Causis, Natura et Differentiis (On the Reasons, Nature, and Differences of Monsters), hereafter De monstruorum. In De monstruorum, Liceti chronologically documented cases of human and animal monsters from antiquity to the seventeenth century. During the seventeenth century, many people considered such monsters as frightening signs of evil cursed by spiritual or supernatural entities. Liceti categorized monsters based on their potential causes, several of which he claimed were unrelated to the supernatural. Historians later noted that some documented monsters were infants with birth defects. In De monstruorum, Liceti elevated the status of monsters to potential subjects of scientific inquiry and provided an early model for the study of birth defects, a field later called teratology.
Kurt Benirschke studied cells, placentas, and endangered species in Germany and the US during the twentieth century. Benirschke was professor at the University of California in San Diego, California, and a director of the research department at the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California. He also helped form the research department of the San Diego Zoo and its sister organization, the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species. Benirschke contributed to the field of embryology through his work on human and animal reproduction, including work on human placentas and birth defects, through work on the structure of chromosomes, and through work on the reproduction and conservation of endangered species.
Fortunio Liceti studied natural philosophy and medicine in Italy during the first half of the seventeenth century. Liceti wrote greater than seventy works on a wide range of topics, including the human soul, reproduction, and birth defects observed in animals and human infants. In the seventeenth century, people commonly addressed birth defects using superstition and considered them as signs of evil, possibly caused by spiritual or supernatural entities. Liceti described infants with birth defects as prodigies and monsters to be admired and studied rather than feared. Liceti’s works established monsters as a possible subject of scientific inquiry and served as models for the future study of birth defects, a field later called teratology. Liceti was one of the first scholars to attempt to systematically categorize birth defects based on their causes, including multiple causes unrelated to the supernatural.
In 1984, Dante Cicchetti published “The Emergence of Developmental Psychopathology,” an article in which he argued that the previously amorphous study of developmental psychopathology was emerging as a unified discipline. According to Cicchetti, developmental psychopathology describes an interdisciplinary field that studies abnormalities in psychological function that can arise during human development. Such studies include research about the effects that traumatic experiences may have on the development of psychological disorders and about what behaviors are considered normal or abnormal at different ages. In the article, Cicchetti reports about the origins of developmental psychopathology, why it emerged as its own discipline, and why researchers should study it. In addition to recognizing the field of developmental psychopathology, the article informed later research about preventing and treating the harmful psychological effects of early traumatic events.
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.