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.
In 1969, Roy J. Britten and Eric H. Davidson published Gene Regulation for Higher Cells: A Theory, in Science. A Theory proposes a minimal model of gene regulation, in which various types of genes interact to control the differentiation of cells through differential gene expression. Britten worked at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Washington, D.C., while Davidson worked at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Their paper was an early theoretical and mechanistic description of gene regulation in higher organisms.
Francis Harry Compton Crick, who co-discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953 in Cambridge, England, also developed The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, and further clarified the relationship between nucleotides and protein synthesis. Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that he shared with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins in 1962 for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. Crick's results on the genetic material found in all living organisms advanced theories of inheritance and spurred further studies into the field of genetics and embryology.
Carol Widney Greider studied telomeres and telomerase in the US at the turn of the twenty-first century. She worked primarily at the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009, along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak, for their research on telomeres and telomerase. Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect chromosomes from tangling, and they provide some protection from mutations. Greider also studied telomerase, an enzyme that repairs telomeres. Without telomeres, chromosomes are subject to mutations that can lead to cell death, and without telomerase, cells might not reproduce fast enough during embryonic development. Greider's research on telomeres helped scientists explain how chromosomes function within cells.
In 2007, Philippe Horvath and his colleagues explained how bacteria protect themselves against viruses at Danisco, a Danish food company, in Dangé-Saint-Romain, France. Horvath and his team worked to improve the lifespan of bacteria cultures for manufacturing yogurt and ice cream. Specifically, they focused on bacteria’s resistance to bacteriophages, or viruses that infect bacteria. Horvath and his colleagues found that the bacteria used to culture yogurt, Streptococcus thermophilus, has an adaptive immune system that can target specific viruses that have previously infected the bacteria. The immune system is called the CRISPR/cas system, or the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR associated protein system. Horvath and his colleagues explained how bacteria use CRISPR/cas as an immune system to target viruses and protect themselves from infection. The discovery informed the development of CRISPR/cas as a gene editing tool to modify bacterial, animal, and human genomes.
In 2002 Eric Davidson and his research team published 'A Genomic Regulatory Network for Development' in Science. The authors present the first experimental verification and systemic description of a gene regulatory network. This publication represents the culmination of greater than thirty years of work on gene regulation that began in 1969 with 'A Gene Regulatory Network for Development: A Theory' by Roy Britten and Davidson. The modeling of a large number of interactions in a gene network had not been achieved before. Furthermore, this model revealed behaviors of the gene networks that could only be observed at the levels of biological organization above that of the gene.
Victor Ambros is a professor of molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and he discovered the first microRNA (miRNA) in 1993. Ambros researched the genetic control of developmental timing in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and he helped describe gene function and regulation during the worm’s development and embryogenesis. His discovery of miRNA marked the beginning of research into a form of genetic regulation found throughout diverse life forms from plants to humans. Ambros is a central figure in the miRNA and C. elegans research communities, and co-directs the RNA Therapeutics Institute.