Timeline of biology and organic chemistry

This timeline of biology and organic chemistry captures significant events from before 1600 to the present.

Before 1600


  •  ?? – Jan Baptist van Helmont performed his famous tree plant experiment in which he shows that the substance of a plant derives from water, a forerunner of the discovery of photosynthesis.
  • 1628 – William Harvey published An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals
  • 1651 – William Harvey concluded that all animals, including mammals, develop from eggs, and spontaneous generation of any animal from mud or excrement was an impossibility.
  • 1665 – Robert Hooke saw cells in cork using a microscope.
  • In 1661, 1664 and 1665, the blood cells were discerned by Marcello Malpighi. In 1678, the red blood corpuscles was described by Jan Swammerdam of Amsterdam, a Dutch naturalist and physician. The first complete account of the red cells was made by Anthony van Leeuwenhoek of Delft in the last quarter of the 17th century.
  • 1668 – Francesco Redi disproved spontaneous generation by showing that fly maggots only appear on pieces of meat in jars if the jars are open to the air. Jars covered with cheesecloth contained no flies.
  • 1672 – Marcello Malpighi published the first description of chick development, including the formation of muscle somites, circulation, and nervous system.
  • 1676 – Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed protozoa and calls them animalcules.
  • 1677 – Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed spermatozoa.
  • 1683 – Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed bacteria. Leeuwenhoek's discoveries renew the question of spontaneous generation in microorganisms.


  • 1767 – Kaspar Friedrich Wolff argued that the tissues of a developing chick form from nothing and are not simply elaborations of already-present structures in the egg.
  • 1768 – Lazzaro Spallanzani again disproved spontaneous generation by showing that no organisms grow in a rich broth if it is first heated (to kill any organisms) and allowed to cool in a stoppered flask. He also showed that fertilization in mammals requires an egg and semen.
  • 1771 – Joseph Priestley demonstrated that plants produce a gas that animals and flames consume. This gas was oxygen.
  • 1798 – Thomas Malthus discussed human population growth and food production in An Essay on the Principle of Population.


  • 1801 – Jean-Baptiste Lamarck began the detailed study of invertebrate taxonomy.
  • 1802 – The term biology in its modern sense was propounded independently by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur) and Lamarck (Hydrogéologie). The word was coined in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Burdach.
  • 1809 – Lamarck proposed a modern theory of evolution based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
  • 1817 – Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou isolated chlorophyll.
  • 1820 – Christian Friedrich Nasse formulated Nasse's law: hemophilia occurs only in males and is passed on by unaffected females.
  • 1824 – J. L. Prevost and J. B. Dumas showed that the sperm in semen were not parasites, as previously thought, but, instead, the agents of fertilization.
  • 1826 – Karl von Baer showed that the eggs of mammals are in the ovaries, ending a 200-year search for the mammalian egg.
  • 1828 – Friedrich Woehler synthesized urea; first synthesis of an organic compound from inorganic starting materials.
  • 1836 – Theodor Schwann discovered pepsin in extracts from the stomach lining; first isolation of an animal enzyme.
  • 1837 – Theodor Schwann showed that heating air will prevent it from causing putrefaction.
  • 1838 – Matthias Schleiden proposed that all plants are composed of cells.
  • 1839 – Theodor Schwann proposed that all animal tissues are composed of cells. Schwann and Schleinden argued that cells are the elementary particles of life.
  • 1843 – Martin Barry reported the fusion of a sperm and an egg for rabbits in a 1-page paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.
  • 1856 – Louis Pasteur stated that microorganisms produce fermentation.
  • 1858 – Charles R. Darwin and Alfred Wallace independently proposed a theory of biological evolution ("descent through modification") by means of natural selection. Only in later editions of his works did Darwin used the term "evolution."
  • 1858 – Rudolf Virchow proposed that cells can only arise from pre-existing cells; "Omnis cellula e celulla," all cell from cells. The Cell Theory states that all organisms are composed of cells (Schleiden and Schwann), and cells can only come from other cells (Virchow).
  • 1864 – Louis Pasteur disproved the spontaneous generation of cellular life.
  • 1865 – Gregor Mendel demonstrated in pea plants that inheritance follows definite rules. The Principle of Segregation states that each organism has two genes per trait, which segregate when the organism makes eggs or sperm. The Principle of Independent Assortment states that each gene in a pair is distributed independently during the formation of eggs or sperm. Mendel's trailblazing foundation for the science of genetics went unnoticed, to his lasting disappointment.
  • 1865 – Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz realized that benzene is composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms in a hexagonal ring.
  • 1869 – Friedrich Miescher discovered nucleic acids in the nuclei of cells.
  • 1874 – Jacobus van 't Hoff and Joseph-Achille Le Bel advanced a three-dimensional stereochemical representation of organic molecules and propose a tetrahedral carbon atom.
  • 1876 – Oskar Hertwig and Hermann Fol independently described (in sea urchin eggs) the entry of sperm into the egg and the subsequent fusion of the egg and sperm nuclei to form a single new nucleus.
  • 1884 – Emil Fischer began his detailed analysis of the compositions and structures of sugars.
  • 1892 – Hans Driesch separated the individual cells of a 2-cell sea urchin embryo and shows that each cell develops into a complete individual, thus disproving the theory of preformation and showing that each cell is "totipotent," containing all the hereditary information necessary to form an individual.
  • 1898 – Martinus Beijerinck used filtering experiments to show that tobacco mosaic disease is caused by something smaller than a bacterium, which he names a virus.




  • 1990 – French Anderson et al. performed the first approved gene therapy on a human patient
  • 1990 – Napoli, Lemieux and Jorgensen discovered RNA interference (1990) during experiments aimed at the color of petunias.
  • 1990 – Wolfgang Krätschmer, Lowell Lamb, Konstantinos Fostiropoulos, and Donald Huffman discovered that Buckminsterfullerene can be separated from soot because it is soluble in benzene.
  • 1995 – Publication of the first complete genome of a free-living organism.
  • 1996 – Dolly the sheep was first clone of an adult mammal.
  • 1998 – Mello and Fire publish their work on RNAi in c.elegans, for which they shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
  • 1999 – Researchers at the Institute for Human Gene Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania accidentally kill Jesse Gelsinger during a clinical trial of a gene therapy technique, leading the FDA to halt further gene therapy trials at the institute.
  • 2001 – Publication of the first drafts of the complete human genome (see Craig Venter).
  • 2002 – First virus produced 'from scratch', an artificial polio virus that paralyzes and kills mice.
  • 2007 – Commercialization of Illumina Next generation Sequencing tools. This has become the most popular high-throughput sequencing system.
  • 2012 – Use of CRISPR-Cas9 as a DNA-editing biotechnology tool.

See also


  1. Tobin, Allan, and Dusheck, Jennie, (1998), Asking About Life, Saunders College Publishing, pg 267, ISBN 003072046X
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