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.

The Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Anton Dohrn Zoological Station) is a public research institute focusing on biology and biodiversity. Hereafter called the Station, it was founded in Naples, Italy, in 1872 by Anton Dohrn. The type of research conducted at the Station has varied since it was created, though initial research focused on embryology. At the turn of the twentieth century, researchers at the Station established the sea urchin (Echinoidea) as a model organism for embryological research. A number of scientists conducted experiments on embryos and embryonic development at the Station from the 1890s to the 1930s, including Hans Driesch, Jacques Loeb, Theodor Boveri, Otto Warburg, Hans Spemann and Thomas Morgan. Research completed during this time at the Station contributed to the study of experimental embryology and developmental biology and helped shape the history of embryology.

Edwin Stephen Goodrich studied the structures of animals in England during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Goodrich studied how animals develop to identify their parts and to establish the evolutionary relationships between different species. Goodrich established that body structures can shift their positions relative to an organism's body during evolution, and he hypothesized that body structures can share ancestry (homology) between organisms of different species, even without identical body placement. Goodrich claimed that any given characteristic of an organism results from both genetic and external sources.

Berthold Karl Hölldobler studied social insects like ants in Europe and the US during the twentieth and early twenty-first century. He focused on the social behavior of ants, the evolutionary origins of social insects, and the way ants use chemicals to communicate with each other. Hölldobler’s research reached popular audiences through his co-authored Pulitzer Prize winning book The Ants and through an award winning nature documentary called Ameisen: Die heimliche Weltmacht (Ants: Nature’s Secret Power). Hölldobler researched reproductive practices in specific ant species and helped explain how reproductive practices influence, and are influenced by, social behaviors.

Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire studied anatomy and congenital abnormalities in humans and other animals in nineteenth century France. Under the tutelage of his father, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Isidore compiled and built on his father's studies of individuals with developmental malformations, then called monstrosities. In 1832, Isidore published Histoire generale et particuliere des anomalies de l'organisation chez l'homme et les animaux (General and Particular History of Structural Monstrosities in Man and Animals), in which he defined the term teratology as the study of birth defects and deformities. Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire established teratology as a legitimate branch of scientific study.

Charles Benedict Davenport was an early twentieth-century experimental zoologist. Davenport founded both the Station for Experimental Evolution and the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor in New York. Though he was a talented statistician and skilled scientist, Davenport's scientific achievements are eclipsed by his lasting legacy as the scientific leader of the eugenics movement in the US. Eugenics, an attempt to apply genetic science to improve humanity by selective breeding, was a major public health movement in Europe and the United States in the twentieth century prior to World War II. Davenport's involvement in the eugenics movement helped pave the way for the sterilization of tens of thousands of US citizens.

Gavin de Beer was an English zoologist known for his contributions to evolution and embryology, in particular for showing the inadequacy of the germ layer theory as it was then proposed. He was born in London, England, on 1 November 1899, but was raised for his first thirteen years in France where his father worked for a telegraph company. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1917 but his studies were soon interrupted by World War I. After serving in the military, he returned to Oxford where he studied under Edwin Goodrich. He graduated in 1922 but stayed on as a fellow of Merton College and to teach in the Zoology Department. He was the Jenkinson Memorial Lecturer between 1926 and 1938.

Karl Wilhelm Theodor Richard von Hertwig is an important figure in the history of embryology for his contributions of artificial hybridization of sea urchin eggs and the formulation of his coelom theory. He was born 23 September 1850 in Friedelberg, Germany, to Elise Trapp and Carl Hertwig. Richard and his older brother Oscar began their studies at Jena under the direction of Ernst Haeckel from 1868 to 1871. In 1872 Hertwig became a lecturer in zoology at Jena while Oscar lectured in anatomy and embryology. As both brothers advanced in their respective fields, Hertwig left Jena to become a professor at Königsberg. In 1883 he was professor at Bonn and in 1885 in Munich, where he stayed until his retirement in 1925. Hertwig married Julia Braun in 1887 and had two sons and one daughter. He remained very active his entire life, outliving his brother Oscar by fifteen years.

Libbie Henrietta Hyman was born into a recently immigrated Jewish family on 6 December 1888 in Des Moines, Iowa. One of many siblings and daughter to parents Sabina Neumann and Joseph Hyman, who did not particularly support her interests in science, Hyman excelled in school and indulged her interests in biology in her free time. From a young age, Hyman collected and cataloged flora around her home. Despite being valedictorian of her high school class, Hyman's first job was labeling cereal boxes in a local factory. It was only when a former teacher became aware of Hyman's situation that Hyman was prompted to apply for college scholarships.

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