'On the Permanent Life of Tissues outside of the Organism' reports Alexis Carrel's 1912 experiments on the maintenance of tissue in culture media. At the time, Carrel was a French surgeon and biologist working at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. In his paper, Carrel reported that he had successfully maintained tissue cultures, which derived from connective tissues of developing chicks and other tissue sources, by serially culturing them. Among all the tissue cultures Carrel reported, one was maintained for more than two months, whereas previous efforts had only been able to keep tissues in vitro for three to fifteen days. Carrel’s experiments contributed to the development of long-term tissue culture techniques, which were useful in the study of embryology and eventually became instrumental in stem cell research. Despite later evidence to the contrary, Carrel believed that as long as the tissue culture method was accurately applied, tissues kept outside of the organisms should be able to divide indefinitely and have permanent life.
The Cell in Development and Inheritance, by Edmund Beecher Wilson, provided a textbook introduction to cell biology for generations of biologists in the twentieth century. In his book, Wilson integrated information about development, inheritance, chromosomes, organelles, and the structure and functions of cells. First published in 1896, the book started with 371 pages, grew to 483 pages in the second edition that appeared in 1900, and expanded to 1,231 pages by the third and final edition in 1925. Wilson dedicated the book to the cell biologist Theodor Boveri, whose work established the roles of chromosomes in cell division. With its explanations and many illustrations and diagrams, The Cell in Development and Inheritance enabled embryologists to better understand development in terms of cell structure and function.
August Friedrich Leopold Weismann studied how the traits of organisms developed and evolved in a variety of organisms, mostly insects and aquatic animals, in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Weismann proposed the theory of the continuity of germ-plasm, a theory of heredity. Weismann postulated that germ-plasm was the hereditary material in cells, and parents transmitted to their offspring only the germ-plasm present in germ-cells (sperm and egg cells) rather than somatic or body cells. Weismann also promoted Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of the evolution of species. Weismann argued that only changes to the germ cells, and not body cells, could be inherited, a theory that influenced theories of heredity throughout later centuries.
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.
In 2018, He Jiankui uploaded a series of videos to a YouTube channel titled “The He Lab” that detailed one of the first instances of a successful human birth after genome editing had been performed on an embryo using CRISPR-cas9. CRISPR-cas9 is a genome editing tool derived from bacteria that can be used to cut out and replace specific sequences of DNA. He genetically modified embryos at his lab in Shenzhen, China, to make them immune to contracting HIV through indirect perinatal transmission from their father, who was infected with the virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune cells of its host and weakens their ability to fight off diseases. At the time of He’s experiment, various treatments already existed at that could prevent the fetuses from contracting HIV without the need for gene surgery. Nonetheless, He’s experiment led to one of the first successful births of fetuses resulting from genetically modified embryos. He kept his experiment secret until he uploaded the videos announcing the birth of the fetuses, born as two twin girls. The experiment discussed in the videos was successful, but many scientists criticized the experiment due to ethical concerns with the way He conducted it.
Curt Jacob Stern studied radiation and chromosomes in humans and fruit flies in the United States during the twentieth century. He researched the mechanisms of inheritance and of mitosis, or the process in which the chromosomes in the nucleus of a single cell, called the parent cell, split into identical sets and yield two cells, called daughter cells. Stern worked on the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly, and he provided early evidence that chromosomes exchange genetic material during cellular reproduction. During World War II, he provided evidence for the harmful effects of radiation on developing organisms. That research showed that mutations can cause problems in developing fetuses and can lead to cancer. He helped explain how genetic material transmits from parent to progeny, and how it functions in developing organisms.
Two main elements characterize the skeletal morphology of turtles: the carapace and the plastron. For a turtle, the carapacial ridge begins in the embryo as a bulge posterior to the limbs but on both sides of the body. Such outgrowths are the first indication of shell development in turtle embryos. While the exact mechanisms underpinning the formation of the carapacial ridge are still not entirely known, some biologists argue that understanding these embryonic mechanisms is pivotal to explaining both the development of turtles and their evolutionary history.
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a mechanism in embryonic development that occurs naturally in organisms. Apoptosis is a different process from cell necrosis, which is uncontrolled cell death usually after infection or specific trauma. As cells rapidly proliferate during development, some of them undergo apoptosis, which is necessary for many stages in development, including neural development, reduction in egg cells (oocytes) at birth, as well as the shaping of fingers and vestigial organs in humans and other animals. Sydney Brenner, H. Robert Horvitz, and John E. Sulston received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002 for their work on the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. Research on cell lineages before and after embryonic development may lead to new ways to reduce or promote cell death, which can be important in preventing diseases such as Alzheimer's or cancer.
De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi (On the Genesis of the Ovum of Mammals and of Men) is an 1827 pamphlet by Karl Ernst von Baer about the anatomical observation and description of the egg (ovum) of mammals, like dogs and humans. The pamphlet detailed evidence for the existence of the ovum at the beginning of the developmental process in mammals. Prior to von Baer's publication, there was much debate about how organisms develop, as some claimed that organisms grow from a corpuscular element already preformed in the body (preformationism), and others said that organisms developed from a fluid material undergoing a process of progressive formation (epigenesis). Researchers at the time struggled to observe the early stages of development, and those such as von Baer had to observe the phenomenon through microscopes and then provide interpretations of the phenomena they observed.
Published in 2002, prostate cancer researcher John R. Masters authored a review article HeLa Cells 50 Years On: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly that described the historical and contemporary context of the HeLa cell line in research in Nature Reviews Cancer. The HeLa cell line was one of the first documented immortal cell lines, isolated from cervical cancer patient Henrietta Lacks in 1951 at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. An immortal cell line is a cluster of cells that continuously multiply on their own outside of the original host. Though the HeLa cell line has contributed to many biomedical research advancements such as the polio vaccine, its usage in research has been controversial for many reasons, including that Lacks was a Black woman who did not knowingly donate her cells to science. In the article “HeLa Cells 50 Years On: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” Masters describes that, despite the benefits of the HeLa cell line, it has caused significant negative impacts on research due to its propensity to contaminate other cell lines, which can potentially invalidate research findings.