History of Genetics

History of Genetics

History of Genetics
Gregor Mendel: Father of Genetics

Genetics is the science of heredity and variation. On one hand, heredity is the biological process of transferring genetic information and physical traits from parents to their offspring. The term heredity, which comes from the Latin word hereditatem which means “condition of being an heir“, was first used in the 1530’s. The gene is known to be the basic unit of heredity.  In this page, we will explore the history of genetics and important events around the subject of genetics from the dawn of time to the contemporary researches.

In deeper terms, it is a segment of the DNA which encodes for a specific protein. Genes are passed on from parent to child and are believed by many to be an important part of what decides looks and behavior. On the other hand, genetic variation is the difference in alleles and genes, both within and among populations. The primary sources of genetic variation are: gene flow, mutation, and genetic shuffling[1].

History of Genetics

Genetics History - A Timeline

During 19th Century

  • Man has long observed that similar traits tend to be found among families. However, it was only until the 19th century that this field was began to be studied scientifically[2]. The origin of genetics is traced back in the development of the theories of evolution.
  • 1859: Charles Darwin proposed his famous theory of evolution that described how organisms slowly change through time. Darwin also introduced the idea of natural selection, commonly termed as the “survival of the fittest”, in which organisms with favorable characteristics are most likely to survive and continue to reproduce[3].

    Upon visiting Galapagos Islands, Darwin was able to gather evidences that will support his theory. Not long after, he published his book entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, with his coauthor Alfred Russel Wallace.

    Because Charles Darwin’s discoveries tend to contrast the religious view about the origin of life, he became the subject of critique of church officials and believers.

  • 1865: Gregor Mendel, while experimenting on pea plants, have discovered the way in which traits are passed from one generation to the next. He formed credible predictions coupled with statistical proofs about trait inheritance that he tested with dihybrid and trihybrid crosses in pea plants. The results of his experiments led him to postulate the three Laws of Principles of Inheritance. The first law of inheritance is known as the “law of dominance” wherein some characters tend to be dominant and be “expressed” while some are recessive and be “suppressed”. The second law of inheritance is the “law of segregation” that describes how parental factors separate in the gametes (sex cells). Lastly, the third law of inheritance is the “law of independent assortment” which describes how hereditary factors assort independently during the production of gametes.

    These principles of inheritance formed the cornerstone of modern genetics and because of them, Mendel was hailed as the “Father of Genetics”.

    But for some unknown reasons, the discoveries and works of Mendel went missing.

  • 1869: Friedrich Miescher have successfully isolated the “nuclein” inside the nuclei of human white blood cells[4]. Not long after, he was able to prove that the “nuclein” is present in other cells as well.

  • 1871: The experiments of Ernst Haeckel proved that the genetic material is indeed located in the nucleus.

During the 20th Century To Current

At the start of the 20th century The works of Mendel were rediscovered by three scientists namely Carl Correns,Hugo de Vries, andand Erik Tschermak.

  • 1902: Walter Sutton and Theodore Boveri postulated the Chromosomal theory (PDF) which describes that chromosomes carry the cell’s genetic material (gene).

  • 1905: Nettie Stevens observed the sex chromosomes X and Y[3].

    In the same year, Thomas Morgan discovered the sex linked inheritance of the white eye traits in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogasterPDF).

  • 1905: William Bateson coined the term “genetics” from the Greek word “genno” which means to “give birth” in order to describe the study of inheritance and variation [5].

  • 1909: Bateson published his book entitled Mendel’s Principles of Heredity: A Defense. This book was the first English textbook on genetics and became the main popularizer of Mendel’s ideas after their rediscovery.

  • 1910: A year after, together with Reginald Punnett, Bateson discovered the science of genetic linkage. They also coined the term “epistasis” to describe the interaction between two different traits[5].

  • 1944: The experiments of Oswald Avery and his colleagues proved that the DNA is the molecule responsible for inheritance. Check out this animation on his experiments here.

  • Double Helical Model of the DNA

    1953: The three-dimensional and double helical model of the DNA was proposed by James Watson and Francis Crick (Pray 2009 6). Such discovery also paved the way for the formation of basis of other fields like cell biology and biotechnology. In the same year, the process of DNA replication was discovered.

  • 1961: Not long after, the genetic code was successfully “cracked”. It was discovered that the DNA is not only made of a single but specific triplets of DNA bases. These bases when combined shall then encode for specific corresponding amino acids.

    Gene mutations, duplications, deletions, inversions, and translocations and other abnormalities in the chromosomes were discovered for the first time.

    It was later discovered that genes can undergo natural selection and that the product of the expression of several genes can indeed form several traits[7].

  • 1970: Reverse transcriptase, an enzyme found in retroviruses, was discovered and was used in cloning genes.

  • 1977: Scientist Frederick Sanger introduced the process of sequencing the genome (set of genes of an organism) of a bacteriophage. Later, scientists have done it in other organisms as well.

  • 1983: Kary Mullis invented the process called Polymerase Chain Reaction. In this technique, a segment of the DNA is amplified until millions of copies are produced in just a short period of time[8].

  • 1990: In this year, the Human Genome Project was started. As its name suggests, the goal of this project was to sequence and map the genome (collections of all the genes) of man.

  • 1996: In this year, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell have successfully cloned Dolly the sheep. Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.

  • 2003: The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. The results of the project showed for the first time the complete genetic make up for building a human being[8].

Genetic Engineering Pros and Cons

13 Important Genetic Engineering Pros And Cons

Though the field of Genetics & Biotechnology has helped us in the better understanding of genes, here are 13 comprehensive Genetic Engineering Pros & Cons.
Genetically Modified Foods Disadvantages

6 Major Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

In the continuing battle for hunger, food production has really gotten more technologically improved through the years. Hence the production of food that are said to be “genetically modified”, like the ones previously mentioned. Here are 6 major disadvantages of genetically modified foods.


[1] – Bagley, M. 2013. Genetics: The Study of Heredity. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://www.livescience.com/27332-genetics.html.
[2] – Berkeley. 2012. Genetic Variation. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_17.
[3] – kenyon.edu. 2016. History of Genetics. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://biology.kenyon.edu/courses/biol114/Chap01/history_genetics.html.
[4] – Norman, J. 2004). Coining the term “Genetics”. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=4289.
[5] – Pray, L. 2009. “Discovery of DNA Structure and Function: Watson and Crick.” Nature Education 100-101.
[6] – Smith, D. 2016. Uniformitarianism: Charles Lyell. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/history_12.
[7] – USA.gov. 2015. All About The Human Genome Project (HGP). Accessed July 22, 2016. https://www.genome.gov/10001772/all-about-the–human-genome-project-hgp/.
[8] – Utah.edu. 2016. PCR. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/labs/pcr/.

Cite this article as: "History of Genetics," in Bio Explorer, October 16, 2016, https://www.bioexplorer.net/history_of_biology/genetics/.
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