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History of Genetics Timeline

Jo Ann Lane
1994 Woodrow Wilson Collection


As scientists sought to understand more about the nature of inheritance of traits, hereditary processes were explained in ever increasing detail beginning at the populational level and going toward the molecular level. Keeping this fact in mind will help in understanding the timeline which follows.

Year Scientist(s) Discovery
1858 Charles Darwin Alfred Russel Wallace Joint announcement of the theory of natural selection-that members of a population who are better adapted to the environment survive and pass on their traits.
1859 Charles Darwin Published The Origin of Species.
1866 Gregor Mendel Published the results of his investigations of the inheritance of "factors" in pea plants.
1900 Carl Correns Hugo de Vries Erich von Tschermak Mendel's principles were independently discovered and verified, marking the beginning of modern genetics.
1902 Walter Sutton Pointed out the interrelationships between cytology and Mendelism, closing the gap between cell morphology and heredity.
1905 Nettie Stevens Edmund Wilson Independently described the behavior of sex chromosomes-XX determines female; XY determines male.
1908 Archibald Garrod Proposed that some human diseases are due to "inborn errors of metabolism" that result from the lack of a specific enzyme.
1910 Thomas Hunt Morgan Proposed a theory of sex-linked inheritance for the first mutation discovered in the fruit fly, Drosophila, white eye. This was followed by the gene theory, including the principle of linkage.
1927 Hermann J. Muller Used x-rays to cause artificial gene mutations in Drosophila.
1928 Fred Griffith Proposed that some unknown "principle" had transformed the harmless R strain of Diplococcus to the virulent S strain.
1931 Harriet B. Creighton
Barbara McClintock
Demonstrated the cytological proof for crossing-over in maize.
1941 George Beadle
Edward Tatum
Irradiated the red bread mold, Neurospora, and proved that the gene produces its effect by regulating particular enzymes.
1944 Oswald Avery
Colin MacLeod
Maclyn McCarty
Reported that they had purified the transforming principle in Griffith's experiment and that it was DNA.
1945 Max Delbruck Organized a phage course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory which was taught for 26 consecutive years. This course was the training ground of the first two generations of molecular biologists
late 1940s Barbara McClintock Developed the hypothesis of transposable elements to explain color variations in corn.
1950 Erwin Chargaff Discovered a one-to-one ratio of adenine to thymine and guanine to cytosine in DNA samples from a variety of organisms.
1951 Rosalind Franklin Obtained sharp X-ray diffraction photographs of DNA.
1952 Martha Chase
Alfred Hershey
Used phages in which the protein was labeled with 35S and the DNA with 32P for the final proof that DNA is the molecule of heredity.
1953 Francis Crick
James Watson
Solved the three-dimensional structure of the DNA molecule.
1958 Matthew Meselson
Frank Stahl
Used isotopes of nitrogen to prove the semiconservative replication of DNA.
1958 Arthur Kornberg Purified DNA polymerase I from E. coli, the first enzyme that made DNA in a test tube.
1966 Marshall Nirenberg
H. Gobind Khorana
Led teams that cracked the genetic code- that triplet mRNA codons specify each of the twenty amino acids.
1970 Hamilton Smith
Kent Wilcox
Isolated the first restriction enzyme, HindII, that could cut DNA molecules within specific recognition sites.
1972 Paul Berg
Herb Boyer
Produced the first recombinant DNA molecules.
1973 Joseph Sambrook Led the team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that refined DNA electrophoresis by using agarose gel and staining with ethidium bromide.
1973 Annie Chang
Stanley Cohen
Showed that a recombinant DNA molecule can be maintained and replicated in E. coli.
1975   International meeting at Asilomar, California urged the adoption of guidelines regulating recombinant DNA experimentation.
1977 Fred Sanger Developed the chain termination (dideoxy) method for sequencing DNA.
1977   The first genetic engineering company (Genentech) is founded, using recombinant DNA methods to make medically important drugs.
1978   Somatostatin became the first human hormone produced using recombinant DNA technology.
1981   Three independent research teams announced the discovery of human oncogenes (cancer genes).
1983 James Gusella Used blood samples collected by Nancy Wexler and her co-workers to demonstrate that the Huntington's disease gene is on chromosome 4.
1985 Kary B. Mullis Published a paper describing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the most sensitive assay for DNA yet devised.
1988   The Human Genome Project began with the goal of determining the entire sequence of DNA composing human chromosomes.
1989 Alec Jeffreys Coined the term DNA fingerprinting and was the first to use DNA polymorphisms in paternity, immigration, and murder cases.
1989 Francis Collins
Lap-Chee Tsui
Identified the gene coding for the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator protein (CFTR) on chromosome 7 that, when mutant, causes cystic fibrosis.
1990   First gene replacement therapy-T cells of a four-year old girl were exposed outside of her body to retroviruses containing an RNA copy of a normal ADA gene. This allowed her immune system to begin functioning.
1993   FlavrSavr tomatoes, genetically engineered for longer shelf life, were marketed.


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