Barbara McClintock conducted experiments on corn (Zea mays) in the United States in the mid-twentieth century to study the structure and function of the chromosomes in the cells. McClintock researched how genes combined in corn and proposed mechanisms for how those interactions are regulated. McClintock received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983, the first woman to win the prize without sharing it. McClintock won the award for her introduction of the concept of transposons, also called jumping genes. McClintock conceptualized some genetic material as not static in structure and order, but as subject to re-arrangement and may be altered during development.

Conrad Hal Waddington was an embryologist and theoretical biologist. His early experimental work investigated aspects of embryonic induction and the properties of the organizer first identified by Hans Spemann and Hilde Mangold, while his later studies focused on genetic assimilation. Waddington is probably best known for developing the concept of the epigenetic landscape, and he also held significant interest in many different areas ranging from the visual arts and poetry to philosophy. Throughout his career, Waddington maintained that the arts were integral to science, and he continued to draw inspiration from the arts for his own work.

Best known for his contributions to the field of embryology, Karl Ernst von Baer also pursued a variety of other areas of study including medicine, botany, zoology, and anthropology. Committing his life to scientific research, von Baer's work led to the advancement of the understanding of mammalian reproduction, development, and organ functioning. His embryological discoveries ultimately led him to a view of development that supported epigenesis and refuted long-held thinking about preformation. Karl Ernst von Baer was born on 28 February 1792 in Piep, Estonia, to first cousins Juliane Louise von Baer and Magnus Johann von Baer. As one of ten children, von Baer spent his childhood in Coburg with his father's brother Karl and his wife, Baroness Ernestine von Canne.

The epigenetic landscape is a concept representing embryonic development. It was proposed by Conrad Hal Waddington to illustrate the various developmental pathways a cell might take toward differentiation. The epigenetic landscape integrates the connected concepts of competence, induction, and regulative abilities of the genes into a single model designed to explain cellular differentiation, a long standing problem in embryology.

Introduced by Conrad Hal Waddington in 1942, the concept of epigenetics gave scientists a new paradigm of thought concerning embryonic development, and since then has been widely applied, for instance to inheritable diseases, molecular technologies, and indeed the human genome as a whole. A genome contains an embedded intricate coding template that provides a means of genetic expression from the initial steps of embryonic development until the death of the organism. Within the genome there are two prominent components: coding (exons) and non-coding (introns) sequences. Exons provide coding by transcribing a gene into a protein, while introns do not have this capacity. On top of these coding sequences lie mechanisms that dictate the overall capability of a gene without changing the underlying nucleotide sequence of DNA; these mechanisms are primarily known as epigenetic factors.

Caspar Friedrich Wolff is most famous for his 1759 doctoral dissertation, Theoria Generationis, in which he described embryonic development in both plants and animals as a process involving layers of cells, thereby refuting the accepted theory of preformation: the idea that organisms develop as a result of the unfolding of form that is somehow present from the outset, as in a homunculus. This work generated a great deal of controversy and discussion at the time of its publication but was an integral move in the reemergence and acceptance of the theory of epigenesis.

The Cell-Theory was written by Thomas Henry Huxley in Britain and published in 1853 by The British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review. The twenty-two page article reviews twelve works on cell theory, including those in Germany by Caspar Friedrich Wolff in the eighteenth century and by Karl Ernst von Baer in the nineteenth century. Huxley spends much of The Cell-Theory on a cell theory proposed in the late 1830s by Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann in Germany. Schleiden and Schwann maintained that the cell was the most fundamental unit of life and that the nucleus was the most significant cellular component. Huxley, instead, promoted an epigenetic theory of the cell, for which properties of life emerge from the outer cytoplasm, cell membrane, and wall (the periplast), as opposed to the inner contents of the cell, including the nucleus (the endoplast). Huxley's arguments in The Cell-Theory influenced future scientists about the role of epigenetic processes in embryology and development.