The History of Genetics - Early Beliefs About Heredity, Cell Theory, A Farmer's Son Becomes The Father Ofgenetics Study
generation geneticists inheritance genes
Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders.
—James D. Watson, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, Weidenfield & Nicolson, London, 1968
Genetics is the biology of heredity, and geneticists are the scientists and researchers who study hereditary processes such as the inheritance of traits, distinctive characteristics, and diseases. Genetics considers the biochemical instructions that convey information from generation to generation.
Tremendous strides in science and technology have enabled geneticists to demonstrate that some genetic variation is related to disease and that the ability to vary genes improves the capacity of a species to survive changes in the environment. Although some of the most important advances in genetics research—such as
deciphering the genetic code, isolating the genes that cause or predict susceptibility to certain diseases, and successfully cloning plants and animals—have occurred since the mid-twentieth century, the history of genetic study spans a period of about 150 years. As understanding of genetics progressed, scientific research became increasingly more specific. Genetics first considered populations,
then individuals, then advanced to explore the nature of inheritance at the molecular level.
Particulate theories were attempts to explain observed similarities between parents and their children. One reason these theories were inaccurate was that they relied on observations unaided by the microscope. Microscopy—the use of or investigation with the microscope—and recognition of cells and microorganisms did not occur
until the end of the seventeenth century, when English natu…
In 1665, when Hooke used the microscope he had designed to examine a piece of cork, he saw a honeycomb pattern of rectangles that reminded him of cells, the chambers of monks in monasteries. His observations prompted scientists to speculate that living tissue as well as nonliving tissue was composed of cells. The French
scientist René Dutrochet (1776–1874) performed microscopic studies…
Gregor Mendel was born on July 22, 1822, into a peasant family in a small town in Heinzendorf, Austria (now the Czech Republic), and spent much of his youth working in his family's orchards and gardens. (See Figure 1.2.) At the age of twenty-one he entered the Abbot of St. Thomas, an Augustinian monastery, where he studied
theology, philosophy, and science. His interest in botany (the scien…
During the years following Mendel's work, understanding of cell division and fertilization increased, as did insight into the component parts of cells known as subcellular structures. For example, in 1869 the Swiss biochemist Johann Friedrich Miescher (1844–95) looked at pus he had scraped from the dressings of soldiers
wounded in the Crimean War (1853–56). In the white blood …
Another American geneticist awarded a Nobel Prize was Barbara McClintock (1902–92), who described key methods of exchange of genetic information. Performing chromosomal studies of maize in the botany department at Cornell University, she observed colored kernels on an ear of corn that should have been clear. McClintock
hypothesized that the genetic information that normally would have been …
The period of classical genetics focused on refining and improving the structural understanding of DNA. In contrast, modern genetics seeks to understand the processes of heredity and how genes work. Many historians consider 1953—the year that American geneticist James Watson (1928–) and British biophysicist Francis Crick
(1916–2004) famously described the structure of DNA …
During the second half of the twentieth century, remarkable strides were made by geneticists and other researchers. In 1956 Vernon Ingram (1924–), who would soon be recognized as the "father of molecular medicine," identified the single base difference between normal and sickle-cell hemoglobin. The implications of his finding
that the mutation of a single letter in the DNA gen…
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