Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (1201-1274) develops a theory of evolution with organisms gaining differences through adapting to their environments. He suggests that organisms which gain beneficial new features quicker have advantages over others and are more variable.
Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), develops the modern hierarchical classification system.
The French naturalist Georges Buffon (1707-1788) envisages a constantly changing world in which species change over time (but rejects the idea that this change could lead to new species).
James Burnett, Lord Monboddo
James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1767-1792) suggests that humans descended from primates and that creatures can transform their characteristics in response to the environment over long time intervals.
Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) proposes that all warm-blooded animals arose and differentiated from a single form, and anticipates the idea of natural selection.
Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) draws attention to the fact that the geological record is not a continuous one. He demonstrates the fact of extinction with studies of fossil mammals, and believes the extinctions to have occurred in a series of giant floods.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) proposes that while simple forms of life were spontaneously generated, they were driven up a ladder of complexity over time. Use or disuse of organs and traits cause changes which could be passed on to the next generation.
Robert Edmond Grant and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874) and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844) further develop the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck & Erasmus Darwin to propose that plants and animals had a common evolutionary starting point (a view wrongly discredited by Richard Owen).
Charles Lyell (1797-1875) establishes the basic chronology of the Tertiary period and its relationship to rock strata. He popularizes the doctrine of uniformitarianism; that the features of the Earth can be better explained as the long-term result of short-term geological phenomena.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) sets off on HMS Beagle.
Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) pioneers the study of ecology and initiates a new focus on the interactions between species and their environment.
Neanderthal skull and bones are found in Neander valley in Germany.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) independently conceives the theory of evolution by natural selection and co-publishes with Darwin on the subject.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) publishes On the Origin of Species.
Oxford Evolution Debate
Proponents and opponents of Darwin & Wallace’s theories clash in the famous Oxford Evolution Debate; Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) and Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) butt heads in a public debate, which both sides consider a victory.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) publishes Experiments in Plant Hybridisation, establishing some basic laws of the genetic inheritance of discrete traits. Mendel’s paper remained obscure for about 35 years, but in 1900 it was rediscovered.
Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) applies evolutionary theories to embryology. Subsequently, his work would provide early foundations for the field of evolutionary developmental biology or ‘evo devo’.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) publishes The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.
August Weissman (1834-1914) publishes his germ-plasm theory, which emphasises the separation of the germ line and soma.
James Mark Baldwin
James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934) suggests that adaptation can arise and evolve from plasticity without invoking inheritance of acquired characters in A New Factor in Evolution, a concept later known as the Baldwin Effect. Similar ideas were also presented earlier or around the same time by Douglas Spalding, Conwy LLoyd Morgan and Henry Osborn.
Wilhelm Johannsen (1857-1927), a Danish biologist, provides the basic terminology for genetics: ‘genes’ as particulate units of heredity; ‘genotype’ as the genetic constitution of an organism; and ‘phenotype’ as the organism’s physical characteristics.
Thomas Hunt Morgan
Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945) establishes the chromosomal theory of heredity. Morgan began to breed and conduct experiments with the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, which initiated the field of experimental genetics. Morgan confirmed Mendelian laws of inheritance and the hypothesis that genes are located on chromosomes.
Ronald Fisher (1890-1962) produces the paper The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance, showing how the continuous variation measured by biometricians could be the result of the action of many discrete genetic loci.
Raymond Dart (1893-1988) publishes in Nature a description of the Taung child, a fossil skull from Taung near Johannesburg, of the species Australopithecus africanus.
Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) publishes Genetics and the Origin of Species.
Conrad Hal Waddington
Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975) proposes the evolutionary process of genetic assimilation in Canalization of Development and the Inheritance of Acquired Characters, followed by several other important papers and books, including The Strategy of Genes. His famous epigenetic landscape as a metaphor for gene regulation has become reprinted and re-interpreted ever since.
Julian Huxley (1887-1975) publishes Evolution: The Modern Synthesis.
Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) publishes Systematics and the Origin of Species in which he presents his influential ‘biological species concept’.
Radiometric dating developed
Radiometric dating techniques are developed during this decade.
DNA structure discovered
Francis Crick (1916-2004), James Watson (1928-) and Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) discover the chemical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and show that it meets the unique requirements for a substance that encodes genetic information.
Sydney Brenner (1927-), Francis Crick (1916-2004), Francois Jacob (1920-2013) and Jacques Monod (1910-1976) discover mRNA.
William Hamilton (1936-2000) publishes his papers introducing inclusive fitness theory.
Discovery of ‘Lucy’
Paleontologists Don Johanson (1943-) and colleagues find ‘Lucy’, an almost complete Australopithecine female at Hadar, Ethiopia.
Allan Wilson and Marie-Claire King
Berkeley biochemists Allan Wilson (1934-1991) and Marie-Claire King (1946-) show that humans share nearly 99% of their DNA with chimpanzees.
Charles Sibley and Jon Ahlquist
Charles Sibley (1917-1998) and Jon Ahlquist (1944-) demonstrate that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to gorillas.
Human genome sequenced
The human genome is sequenced and assembled.
Mary Jane West-Eberhard
Mary Jane West-Eberhard (1941-) publishes Developmental Plasticity and Evolution, which focuses on the role of environmentally generated variation in evolution and speciation.
Neanderthal genome sequenced
Richard Green and colleagues publish a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome, suggesting that that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred.
Exciting evolutionary biology research continues to this day.