The study of living organisms, and particularly humans, has been a major preoccupation of science from pre-modern times to the present. Trace this particular trajectory of science from its pre-modern origins (our first textbook) to the emergence of Biology and Evolutionary Theory in the 19th century (chapter 7 in A History of Science in Society ), Cellular Biology and the New Synthesis, the DNA & the Human Genome Project (chapters 10 & 12 in A History of Science in Society).
Evolution and Classifications
The pre-modern period added into modern biology through classification and naming of organisms. Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) started the classification or flora and fauna and the study was picked up by other scientists. Taxonomy then followed through the identification of organisms in form of species. The travels brought about by the Imperial British help with the identification of new species from different regions in the world. Human beings were also not left behind, Linnaeus also classified humans into different races of Asians, Europeans, Africans and the New World Race. The Caucasian Race was later brought in by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach.
As the science into taxonomical classification continued. Geology was another field that was growing immensely. Geologists in the enlightened Europe continued to discover fossils and remains within the earth and through reconstruction developed the whole structure of the organisms. There was a comparative anatomy between the fossils and the organisms within the present time and several differences chipped up. For, example there were differences in species between the fossil remains of elephants and those of the modern day. Several extinct organisms were also found and catastrophists defined the ways in which these species were wiped out.
Study of species and extinct organisms sprang up the most pertinent question of the pre-modern times, what is the origin of species? Lamarck was the first to explain the phenomenon by claiming that the animals underwent evolution influenced by their environments determining the different characteristics. His most influential statement was that there was no extinction and evolution was the only way of transitioning to new forms of animals. His principles were supported by Erasmus Darwin and Robert Chambers before the coming of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin lived among the elite social and scientific society. He invented the theory of evolution and natural selection to explain the origin of species. He argued that variations occurred in beings and some of them were favoured by the environmental conditions and thus people with these variations survived and passed them to the newer generations.
Darwin’s ideas were very popular within the British educated who used it to explain social societies progress through history. Herbert Spencer used Darwinism to explain social growth and development. It was influential in explaining how the best societies lasted and gained control for a period before they were later phased out. It also justified capitalism and manipulation of human societies by the elites.
Discovery of Genes and DNA
The period after the world war provided another revolutionary time for scientific revolution. The field of biology received a great boost because of the discovery of genes and chromosomes by Mendel. These were the new basis of the study of evolutionary change. William Bateson showed that human characteristics are blended and Clarence McClung showed that the chromosomes of the females as X and the males and X and Y. here was a discovery of inheritance of genetic characteristics. Biometricians showed that human characteristics revolved around a mean and this mean would shift regularly according to Darwinian theory. T.H. Morgan proved evolution through the fruit flies experiment which he showed the transfer of a mutation to several generations after that.
From the work of Darwin, Mendel and Morgan, came the new synthesis in to the understanding of the human development and origin. The new synthesis therefore explains discontinuous and continuous variations in the form of calculus like terms that explained the processes of heredity. It brought a solution to the problems with the Darwinian Continuum. There were further chromosomal studies that narrowed down the analysis of to the microscopic level to understand how the gene functioned.
The next discovery into the human organism was that of the DNA. The shift from genetic population patterns to genetic material happened after world war 2. Before this, there were parallel studies by Friedrich Miescher who proposed that genetic material was transferred through either nucleic acid or proteins. Inspired by experiments by Fred Griffith, a team from Oswald carried out experiments which showed that there was nucleic acid, deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA that was responsible for transfer of genetic material. Martha Chase and Hershey traced a phage virus in the gene and discovered that it left some protein coats on the DNA meaning that it would be transferred to the next generation offspring. It was clear that to understand inheritance, it was paramount to know about the DNA molecule.
Francis Crick and James Watson were physicists who created the model structure of the DNA. They based their findings on the diffraction data produced from X-rays. They created a double helix twisted ladder with two spines with base pairs programmed in form of rungs. It became the model that explained the storage of genetic information. It won them a Nobel prize
Human Genome Project
The control of living organisms and corps and foods has continually inspired biological sciences even in the 21st century. After the structure of Watson and Crick, there was now research to try and manipulate the DNA and provide an organism with different characteristics. Brenner, François Jacob discovered a component of DNA known as RNA. There was also the mRNA which was a messenger that would send signals to the ribosomes for protein production. Meaning that the DNA controlled everything with the body through determining all that was produced within the body.
The next phase on the discoveries was to be the complete mapping of the human genome. The benefits would be immense including getting cures for all diseases and extending life. 1988 was when the Human genome science project started. They employed modern technology, proper financing and integrated system of research because genetics was a complicated study and would require much resources. The project continued to absorb much finances and by 1999 it had hit the $1billion mark. I however produced its first working draft in 2001. After mapping most information on genetics, they were able to tart cloning and producing mass organisms. They could also turn bacteria into beneficial products. There were however great concerns over the ethical issues that came with genetic manipulation which slowed down any further progress
Ede, Andrew, and Lesley B. Cormack. A History of Science in Society, Volume II: From the Scientific Revolution to the Present. University of Toronto Press, 2016.