The Most Important Discoveries in Biology of the XIX and XX Centuries

free essayIn the science of the XIX and XX centuries, endless revolutionary changes in all branches of natural sciences occured. By the middle of the XX century, one of the central places among the natural sciences was occupied by biology. The last two centuries have seen such fundamental discoveries as the foundation of the theory of biological evolution, the discovery of stem cells, prions, DNA, and cloning.

Discoveries in Biology

By the end of the XIX century, the scientific thinking underwent significant changes. The mechanistic thinking could not enable the progress that had caused the crisis of the classic science. One of the reasons for it was the discovery of electron and radioactivity. As the result of the crisis, the scientific revolution began first in physics and then, it embraced all basic branches of science. The success in physics had a crucial influence on the progress in chemistry. The quant theory explained the nature of chemical connections that allowed the investigation of the mechanism of inheritance. Thus, genetics began a rapid development, during which the chromosome theory was formulated.

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The meaning of biology as a science is particularly high since the investigation of the historical development of the organic world plays an important role in the formation of materialistic view and the composition of the scientific picture of the world. The theoretical achievements of biology are widely implemented in medicine. The success and the discoveries in biology determine the level of medical sciences’ development. For example, the achievements in genetics allow developing the methods of early diagnoistics of human illnesses. The general laws of biology are used for the solution of different problems of humanity. For example, the rapid growth of population has caused the problem of food production on the planet. This problem may be solved due to the achievements of genetics and selection, which can satisfy the needs of the population in nutritive resources.

The Theory of Biological Evolution

One of the main sources for the formation of the basis of biology was the evolutionary study by Charles Darwin that may be considered one of the most important works in the biological studies until now. In his works, Darwin established the main factors of the biological evolution – changeability, inheritance, and selection. Darwin stated that the basic factors of the biological evolution was the individual phylogenic changeability and the inheritance of features obtained in the process if ontogenesis.

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However, the notions of changeability and inheritance do not fully explain the reasons for the biological evolution. The changeability itself does not have any aim, as the changes that take place in an organism may be both useful and harmful. Then, the inheritance may only be able to fix the changes provided by changeability. Thus, Darwin faced the task to find the motive force for the biological progress. This force turned out to be the mechanism of selection and the struggle for survival.

The principle of natural selection lies in the fact that among numerous life forms that exist on the planet, there remain only those that are mostly accustomed to the existence under certain environmental conditions. Thus, selection allows the storage of such features that provide an organism with the ability of survival and the best existence.

Darvin`s theory is of a particular importance for the general culture of people as it provides the general information about the process of evolution and the development of life on the Earth. The discovery has allowed physicians to carry out the investigations on the organisms that are similar to human body and enabled them to avoid numerous side effects of various medications.

Stem Cells

The discovery of stem cells became one of the most important discoveries in biology in the XX century. However, this issue was subjected to the numerous speculations on the ability to use the discovery in the modern medicine. Meanwhile, biotechnologists state that there exist only several technologies on the implementation of stem cells produced from the spinal cord and the peripheral blood of a person.

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The rapid development of the investigations began in 1998 when Thompson and Gerhard managed to discover embryo stem cells. Goodrich (2015) states that stem cells are the population of cells that possess a high proliferative potential and the ability for differentiation (the development into mature tissues and organs). An embryo completely consists of stem cells that tend to be gradually differentiated into the cells of future organs and tissues.

Thus, the number of stem cells in a mature organism is smaller than in a newborn. As stem cells can be developed into the cells of any organ or tissues, in a mature organism, they are able to carry out the regenerative function. That means that in the case of the injury of any organ, stem cells are favorable for its restoration. This peculiarity of stem cells became the basis for the development of methods of their implementation in medical aid provision.

According to Goodrich (2015), the main sources for the stem cells are the fetal material, spinal cord, and peripheral blood. The usage of fetal material is one of the most difficult ways due to the ethical reasons. At the same time, peripheral blood is one of the best sources of stem cells. However, their further transplantation to patients is connected with numerous problems. The main problem is the compatibility of the donor and the recipient. This method is implemented only for the treatment of a limited number of diseases. It is the transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells in the therapy of hematology-oncology diseases. Stem cells are important for society as they provide people with hope for the rapid changes in the health care industry. It is also useful for the human culture as it rises ethical issues of embryos implementation as the source of stem cells.

The Discovery of Tertiary Protein Structure

Tertiary protein structure was discovered in 1997 by Prusiner. The biochemist stated that the protein molecules of the organisms had three levels of the space structure. The first two levels are the primary and the secondary spirals. The third structure is the space configuration of this two-level spiral. It should be noted that the third structure has a direct influence on the function of the protein in a cell and the organism in general (“Tertiary protein – structure”, n.d.).

How It Works

This discovery created the basis for the discussion of a new type of inheritance that was named protein-based. It means that the transmission of information may be caused not only with the help of chemical structures of genes. The transmission of three-dimensional information that may code the space organization of organisms such as the composition of the body, individual anatomical features of different people, nations, and races occurs (“Tertiary protein – structure”, n.d.). This discovery is important for society and culture because it provides people on the information why people`s races and nations may differ. It also enables medicine with more opportunities for the treatment of genetic diseases.


The structure of DNA was discovered in 1953. The main feature of DNA is the ability to store the information about a protein. The sequence of nucleotides is the code for amino acids. Due to the sequence of amino acids, there appear proteins that govern the biochemical mechanisms of development and the metabolism of a certain organism. The second important quality of DNA is the ability for replication. Before the division of a cell, DNA is divided into two chains of nucleotides. The nucleotides that do not have a couple begin the connection with complimentary elements. This ability of DNA for replication provides the ability for the reproduction of all forms of life from microorganisms to complex organisms.

Mutations are the changes in the sequence of nucleotides couples. This process has a significant impact on the synthesis of proteins. A gene is a special sequence of nucleotides in a chromosome that codes a certain polypeptide or protein. As the result of natural selection, certain genes are oppressed or promoted depending on the involvement of a protein coded by the genome in the successful reproduction of an organism. This knowledge allowed the scientists to investigate the evolution at the molecular level, to trace the history of changes in certain genes and their organization, and to create a phylogenetic model that is based on the similarities of DNA in different taxonomic groups. It provided people with the knowledge of the evolutionary processes.


Cloning is the sequence of homogenous generations that have the same ancestor. These organisms are produced with the help of non-sexual or vegetative reproduction. The examples of a clone are all trees produced as the result of branching, and even entire plants are grown from one cell. The cloning of animals is achieved as the result of transmission of the nucleus of a differentiated cell to another cell that does not have a proper nucleus, with the further transmission of the cell to the organism of the adopted mother.

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The appearance of the technology of animal cloning caused not only a significant scientific interest but also attracted the attention of major companies all over the world. In general, the technology of animal cloning is still being developed. The majority of organisms received with the help of cloning suffer for different pathologies that cause the death of a fetus or their death after birth.

More to say, Goodrich (2015) asserts that cloning is a serious ethical problem. In the majority of countries, the cloning of humans is officially prohibited and it may even lead to the criminal responsibility. Cloning is prohibited because the intellect of a person cannot be cloned, and thus, there arises the problem of a body and a soul. At the same time, cloning may be favorable for the investigation of the problem of organisms’ development and cancer treatment. The cell therapy obtains new perspectives because it may be possible to implement the cloned cells instead of the defected ones. These cells will be successfully received by the recipient since they are the part of the same organisms. The technology of animal cloning may also allow the humanity to obtain the technology of xenotransplantation that may solve the problem of the lack of organs.


The biology of the last two centuries comes from the stage of descriptive science to the theoretical and experimental one. After the sequence of significant discoveries such as the theory of biological evolution, the discovery of stem cells, prions, DNA, and cloning, biology was transmitted to the molecular level of investigation and obtained the features of physical and chemical biology. It makes possible the existence of the global evolutionary synthesis. The discoveries of biology have a significant influence on the development of society, health protection, and the culture of modern life. The latest achievements of biology allow people to understand the structure of the world, and they are useful for the solution of health care problems and the lack of food on the planet.

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