Christiane Nusslein-Volhard studied how genes control embryonic development in flies and in fish in Europe during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In the 1970s, Nusslein-Volhard focused her career on studying the genetic control of development in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. In 1988, Nusslein-Volhard identified the first described morphogen, a protein coded by the gene bicoid in flies. In 1995, along with Eric F. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis, she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of genes that establish the body plan and segmentation in Drosophila. Nusslein-Volhard also investigated the genetic control of embryonic development to zebrafish, further generalizing her findings and helping establishing zebrafish as a model organism for studies of vertebrate development.

Rachel L. Carson studied biology at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and graduated in 1933 with an MA upon the completion of her thesis, The Development of the Pronephros during the Embryonic and Early Larval Life of the Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus). The research that Carson conducted for this thesis project grounded many of the claims and observations she presented in her 1962 book, Silent Spring. This book focused on the environmental dangers of using pesticides against insects and plants deemed invasive, and it received attention from the US government, to such an extent that Carson testified before US congress in Washington D.C., and US President John F. Kennedy appointed a commission to validate her claims.

Alan Mathison Turing was a British mathematician and computer scientist who lived in the early twentieth century. Among important contributions in the field of mathematics, computer science, and philosophy, he developed a mathematical model of morphogenesis. This model describing biological growth became fundamental for research on the process of embryo development.

The term morphogenesis generally refers to the processes by which order is created in the developing organism. This order is achieved as differentiated cells carefully organize into tissues, organs, organ systems, and ultimately the organism as a whole. Questions centered on morphogenesis have aimed to uncover the mechanisms responsible for this organization, and developmental biology textbooks have identified morphogenesis as one of the main challenges in the field. The concept of morphogenesis is intertwined with those of differentiation, growth, and reproduction. Each comprises the fundamental components of development that have commonly been used to categorize the problems that motivate developmental biology.

The establishment and growth of developmental-evolutionary biology owes a great debt to the work of John Tyler Bonner. Bonner's studies of cellular slime molds have shed light on some of the big questions of biology including the origins of multicellularity and the nature of morphogenesis. The second child of Lilly Marguerite Stehli and Paul Bonner, John Tyler was born 12 May 1920 in New York City and spent his early years in Locust Valley, Long Island (late 1920s), France (1930), and London (1932). His love for science was ignited as a young boy in England where he was inspired by visits to St. James's Park and the Natural History Museum.

The source-sink model, first proposed by biologist Francis Crick in 1970, is a theoretical system for how morphogens distribute themselves across small fields of early embryonic cells. A morphogen is a substance that determines the fate and phenotype of a group of cells through a concentration gradient of itself across that group. Crick’s theory has been experimentally confirmed with several morphogens, most notably with the protein bicoid , the first discovered morphogen. The model provides a theoretical structure for the understanding of some features of early embryonic development.

Bicoid is the protein product of a maternal-effect gene unique to flies of the genus Drosophila . In 1988 Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard identified bicoid as the first known morphogen . A morphogen is a molecule that determines the fate and phenotype of a group of cells through a concentration gradient across that developing region. The bicoid gradient, which extends across the anterior-posterior axis of Drosophila embryos, organizes the head and thorax.

John Philip Trinkaus studied the processes of cell migration and gastrulation, especially in teleost fish, in the US during the twentieth century. Called Trink by his friends, his social confidence and work ethic combined to make him a prolific and decorated developmental biologist. His scientific contributions included investigations of several different aspects of embryology.

Throughout his long and fruitful career John Tyler Bonner has made great strides in understanding basic issues of embryology and developmental-evolutionary biology. Indeed, Bonner's work on morphogenesis highlighted synergies between development and evolution long before "evo-devo" became a part of the scientific lingua franca. Princeton University Press published his first book, Morphogenesis: An Essay on Development, in 1952. In his autobiography Lives of a Biologist, Bonner described his motivations for writing Morphogenesis as a book about developmental biology. He wanted to show how the methods of "old embryology" could be applied to all organisms.

In 1952 the article "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis" by the British mathematician and logician Alan M. Turing was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. In that article Turing describes a mathematical model of the growing embryo. He uses this model to show how embryos develop patterns and structures (e.g., coat patterns and limbs, respectively). Turing's mathematical approach became fundamental for explaining the developmental process of embryos. In the 1970s, for instance, scientists Alfred Gierer and Hans Meinhardt used Turing's model to work out how the patterns on seashells develop.

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