Ann Murphy and Judi Perrella
1993 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


In order to help teachers and students study how present biotechnology has evolved, a timeline is included referencing major scientists and major events in history which have led to our current understanding and use.

    Grade 7 life science through Grade 12 AP biology

    Minimum of one period

    Depends upon use of timeline


  • Teacher Guide For Presentation Of Activity:
    Depends upon use of timeline


    Uses of timeline:

    1. Lecture or class discussion.

    2. Reading assignment or student reports. Students could research individual scientists or discoveries.

    3. Students could graph on adding machine tape or graph paper taped together.

    4. Students could use Timeliner computer software (90 Sherman St., Cambridge, MA 02140; 800-342-0236), designed by Thomas F.F. Snyder & David Kaemmer (1986). Tom Snyder Productions.

    5. Students could add significant historical events to timeline.

    6. Teacher could work with social studies teacher to develop lesson to help students understand how science, history and technology impact each other.

    7. Use videotapes, laser discs, books or periodicals, historical figures and events to support evidence given in timeline.

    8. A series of analysis questions could be given to students with one of the above assignments.

    Sample questions are:

  • Link the significance of one discovery to previous discoveries.What prior knowledge was needed to make the discovery?

  • How does "newness" of biotechnology compare to the age of the earth?

  • Which scientists were involved in explaining what genes do? What did each contribute?

  • Which diagnostic tools were needed for each of the discoveries?


    Prior to 1750

      Plants used for food. Animals used for food and to do work.
      Plants domesticated, selectively bred for desired characteristics.
      Microorganisms used to make cheese, beverages, and bread fermentation

    1797 Edward Jenner

      Used living microorganisms to protect people from disease.


      Increased cultivation of leguminous crops and crop rotations to increase yield and land use.


      Animal drawn machines


      Horse drawn harrows, seed drills, corn planters, horse hoes, 2-row cultivators, hay mowers, and rakes.
      Industrially processed animal feed and inorganic fertilizer

    1859 Charles Darwin

      Hypothesized that animal and plant populations adapt over time to best fit the environment.

    1864 Louis Pasteur

      Proved existence of microorganisms
      Showed that all living things are produced by other living things.

    1865 Gregor Mendel

      Investigated how traits are passed from generation to generation: called them factors.

    1869 Johann Meischer

      Isolated DNA from the nuclei of white blood cells.


      Steam engine to drive combine harvesters


      Ammonia synthesis


      Self-propelled tractor

    1893 Koch, Pasteur, Lister Institutes

      Fermentation process patented
      Diphtheria antitoxin isolated

    1902 Walter Sutton

      Coined the term "gene"
      Proposed that chromosomes carry genes (factors which Mendel
      said that could be passed from generation to generation)


      Artificial "silks" developed

    1910 Thomas H. Morgan

      Proved that genes are carried on chromo-somes "Biotechnology" term coined

    1918 Germans

      Used acetone produced by plants to make bombs
      Yeast grown in large quantities for animal and glycerol
      Made activated sludge for sewage treatment process


      Boom of rayon industry

    1927 Herman Mueller

      Increased mutation rate in fruit flies by exposing them to x-rays

    1928 Frederick Griffiths

      Noticed that a rough kind of bacterium changed to a smooth type when unknown "transforming principle" from smooth type was present.

    1928 Alexander Fleming

      Discovered antibiotic properties of certain molds


      Plant hybridization


      Proteins and DNA studied by x-ray crystallography
      Term 'molecular biology" coined

    1941 George Beadle/ Edward Tatum

      Proposed "one gene, one enzyme" hypothesis

    1943-1953 Linus Pauling

      Described sickle cell anemia, calling it a molecular disease
      Cortisone made in large amounts
      DNA is identified as the genetic material

    1944 Oswald Avery

      Performed transformation experiment with Griffith's bacterium

    1945 Max Delbruck

      Organized course to study a type of bacterial virus that consists of a protein coat containing DNA


      Penicillin produced
      Transition from animal power to mechanical power on farms

    1950 Erwin Chargaff

      Determined that there is always a ratio of 1:1 adenine to thymine in DNA of many different organisms
      Artificial insemination of livestock

    1952 Alfred Hershey/ Margaret Chase

      Used radioactive labeling to determine that it is the DNA not protein which carries the instructions for assembling new phages

    1953.James Watson/ Francis Crick

      Determined the double helix structure of DNA

    1956 Dangr

      Sequenced insulin (protein) from pork

    1957 Francis Crick/ George Gamov

      Explained how DNA functions to make protein

    1958 Coenberg

      Discovered DNA polymerase

      Isolation of m-RNA


      Classification of the plasmids

    1966 Marshall Nirenberg/ Severo Ochoa

      Determined that a sequence of three nucleotide bases determine each of 20 amino acids


      Isolation of reverse transcriptase


      Discovery of restriction enzymes

    1972 Paul Berg

      Cut sections of viral DNA and bacterial DNA with same restriction enzyme
      Spliced viral DNA to the bacterial DNA

    1973 Stanley Cohen/ Herbert Boyer

      Produced first recombinant DNA organism
      Beginning of genetic engineering


      Moratorium on recombinant DNA techniques


      National Institute of Health guidelines developed for study of recombinant DNA


      First practical application of genetic engineering human growth hormone produced by bacterial cells

    1978 Genentech, Inc.

      Genetic engineering techniques used to produce human insulin in E. coli
      First biotech company on NY stock exchange
      Stanford University First successful transplantation of mammalian gene
      Discoverers of restriction enzymes receive Nobel Prize in medicine

    1979 Genentech, Inc.

      Produced human growth hormone and two kinds of interferon
      DNA from malignant cells transformed a strain of cultured mouse cells new tool for analyzing cancer genes


      US. Supreme Court decided that manmade microbes could be patented

    1983 Genentech, Inc.

      Licensed Eli Lilly to make insulin
      First transfer of foreign gene in plants


      Plants can be patented


      First field trials of DNA recombinant plants resistant to insects, viruses, bacteria


      First living mammal patented


      Flavr savr tomatoes sold to public


    1. Micklos, D.A. & Freyer, G. A., DNA Science: A First Course in Recombinant DNA Technology. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory & Carolina Biological Supply Company. 477 pp. Available from: Cabisco Biotechnology, 2700 York R., Burlington, NC 27215; 800-334-5551 or 800-632-1231 (NC only).

    2. NABT Sourcebook of Biotechnology.

    3. Bud, Robert, "Janus-faced Biotechnology - An Historical Perspective", Trends in Biotechnology v. 7, 1989, p. 230-33.

    4. Torrey, John G., "The Development of Plant Biotechnology", American Scientist, 1985, 73:354-363.

    5. Goodman, David C., From Farming to Biotechnology: A Theory of Agro-industrial Development Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

    6. Seabrook, John, "Tremors in the Hothouse", The New Yorker July 19, 1993 p. 32-41.

    Woodrow Wilson Index

    Activities Exchange Index

    Custom Search on the AE Site