The History of Genetics: the Rise of Modern Genetics
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The History of Genetics: the Rise of Modern Genetics

After the development of microscopes, several discoveries led to a better understanding of heredity. Here some major advances will be discussed.

Microscopes and Preformationism

Cells were discovered by Robert Hooke in 1665, after simple microscopes were developed by Dutch spectacle makers in the late 1500’s. The introduction to this new miniature world led to the development of preformationism, the idea that inside the egg or the sperm a tiny miniature man (or woman), a homunculus, could be found, that simply grew larger during development. This means that all traits would be inherited from one parent. Despite observations suggesting that offspring possesses a mix of parental traits, preformationism remained a popular idea during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Blended Inheritance

Another notion developed during that period, was blended inheritance. This proposes that the descendants are a blend of parental traits, suggesting that the genetic material itself blends. Once blended, genetic differences could not be separated out in future generations. While some traits appear to exhibit blended inheritance, we now know that individual genes do not blend.

Plants and Hybrids

In the 18th century, botanists began to experiment with crossing plants and creating hybrids. Among them, Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter, who performed numerous crosses and examined the resulting hybrids with a microscope. Crossing plants with many different traits prevented him from identifying any general inheritance patterns. Nevertheless, he set the stage for the beginning of modern genetics, as he inspired Gregor Mendel to begin experimenting with plant hybridization, leading to the discovery of the basic principles of heredity. This laid the foundation for modern genetics and, although largely ignored in his own time, Mendel is now generally considered the father of genetics.

Cells and the Microtome

Developments in cytology, the study of cells, had a large influence on genetics. After several discoveries, Theodor Schwann proposed the cell theory in 1839. This theory stipulates that all life is made up out of cells, that these cells arise from preexisting cells and that the cell is the fundamental unit of structure and function in living organisms. This led to an increasing interest in the study of cells and how they transmitted traits through cell division.

An important invention concerning cellular biology in the second half of the 19th century was the microtome, which allowed the cutting of thin slices of tissue for microscopic examination. Furthermore, improved histological (concerning tissue) staining techniques were developed. This led to an increase in cytological research, which in turn led to the observation of chromosomes, the first accurate description of cell division and the awareness that the nucleus contained the hereditary information.

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Comments (2)

Excellent. Voted up.

Well composed neat data here Vernon, thanks.