Georges Cuvier, baptized Georges Jean-Leopold Nicolas-Frederic Cuvier, was a professor of anatomy at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Scholars recognize Cuvier as a founder of modern comparative anatomy, and as an important contributor to vertebrate paleontology and geology. Cuvier studied the form and function of animal anatomy, writing four volumes on quadruped fossils and co-writing eleven volumes on the natural history of fish with Achille Valenciennes. Moreover, Cuvier constructed a system of classification based on specific and well-articulated principles to help anatomists classify animal taxa. Cuvier had public debate in 1830 with Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a dispute centered on whether form or function matters most for the study of anatomy and whether the transmutation of organic forms can occur over time. Cuvier's opinions influenced the development of biology in France, and his arguments against transmutation of types influenced the reception of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection among many French naturalists.
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.
James William Kitching collected and studied fossils of dinosaurs and early humans in the twentieth century. He worked at the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research in South Africa. During the fifty-three years he worked at the institute, Kitching spent eighteen of those in the field uncovering fossils. Kitching recovered fossils of early human ancestors, later called Australopithecines, as well as fossils of dinosaurs and ancient mammals. When he died in 2003, the Bernard Price Institute housed one of the largest fossil collections in the southern hemisphere. Kitching and his team had collected most of those fossils. Additionally, he helped discover Massospondylus embryos, the first dinosaur embryos ever recovered, which enabled scientists to examine dinosaurs before birth.
When scientists discovered a 3.3 million-year-old skeleton of a child of the human lineage (hominin) in 2000, in the village of Hadar, Ethiopia, they were able to study growth and development of Australopithecus afarensis, an extinct hominin species. The team of researchers, led by Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, named the fossil DIK 1-1 and nicknamed it Dikika baby after the Dikika research site. The Dikika fossil preserves much of the skull, including the jaw and teeth, which enabled scientists to study the teeth microstructures and to reconstruct the pace at which individuals of the hominin A. afarensis developed.
Dinosaur egg parataxonomy is a classification system that organizes dinosaur eggs by descriptive features such as shape, size, and shell thickness. Though egg parataxonomy originated in the nineteenth century, Zi-Kui Zhao from Beijing, China, developed a modern parataxonomic system in the late twentieth century. Zhao's system, published in 1975, enabled scientists to organize egg specimens according to observable features, and to communicate their findings. The eggshell protects the developing embryo, enables gas exchange between the embryo and the environment external to the egg, and the internal components of the egg provide nutrients for the embryo. Those external and internal features that support a developing embryo leave their mark on eggshells. Dinosaur egg parataxonomy classifies those characteristics and provides insight into dinosaur egg-laying behaviors, reproductive physiology, and embryonic development.
Acid dissolution is a technique of removing a fossil from the surrounding rock matrix in which it is encased by dissolving that matrix with acid. Fossilized bone, though strong enough to be preserved for thousands or millions of years, is often more delicate than rock. Once a fossil is discovered, scientists must remove the fossil from its surroundings without damaging the fossil itself. Scientists have used chemicals to expose vertebrate fossils since the 1930s, and in the late 1990s Terry Manning, an amateur scientist and technician working in England, adapted the technology to dinosaur eggs. Manning used acid dissolution on dinosaur eggs to expose the embryos beneath the rock and fossil shell. Manning's acid dissolution enabled scientists to better study the remains of dinosaur embryos otherwise hidden beneath layers of eggshell and rock, revealing previously unrecorded aspects of dinosaur growth and development.
Stephen Jay Gould studied snail fossils and worked at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts during the latter half of the twentieth century. He contributed to philosophical, historical, and scientific ideas in paleontology, evolutionary theory, and developmental biology. Gould, with Niles Eldredge, proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, a view of evolution by which species undergo long periods of stasis followed by rapid changes over relatively short periods instead of continually accumulating slow changes over millions of years. In his 1977 book, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Gould reconstructed a history of developmental biology and stressed the importance of development to evolutionary biology. In a 1979 paper coauthored with Richard Lewontin, Gould and Lewonitn criticized many evolutionary bioligists for relying solely on adaptive evolution as an explanation for morphological change, and for failing to consider other explanations, such as developmental constraints.
In nineteenth century Great Britain, Thomas Henry Huxley proposed connections between the development of organisms and their evolutionary histories, critiqued previously held concepts of homology, and promoted Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Many called him Darwin's Bulldog. Huxley helped professionalize and redefine British science. He wrote about philosophy, religion, and social issues, and researched and theorized in many biological fields. Huxley made several methodological contributions to both invertebrate and vertebrate embryology and development, and he helped shape the extra-scientific discourse for these fields.