This week in Science History: 27-9-10

By Peter Dearden 27/09/2010


This week in Science History

Megan Leask, PhD Student, Laboratory for Evolution and Development

George Harrison Shull – Died 28 Sep 1954 (born 15 Apr 1874)

American botanist and geneticist known as the father of hybrid corn (maize). A leader in developing the multiple allele concept of genes, Shull’s work with maize led him to develop the first hybrid corn, ancestor of today’s sweet corn. Shull’s approach was to study the effects of inbreeding and subsequent cross-fertilization in corn. In 1909, he published A Pure Line Method of Corn Breeding in which he outlined the basics of breeding hybrid corn. As a result of his research corn yields per acre were increased 25 to 50 percent.

Louis Pasteur – Died 28 Sep 1895 (born 27 Dec 1822)

Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur

French chemist who became a founder of microbiology. He began as a chemist working on the optical properties of tartaric acid and its stereochemistry (1849). He then moved into microbiology where he discovered the role of bacteria in fermentation – that it was micro-organisms in yeast causing the formation of alcohol from sugar – and proved that the growth of microorganisms was not spontaneously generated from non-living matter. This led to understanding of the germ theory of infection, and his method of killing harmful bacteria in liquids by holding them for a time at a given temperature, which is now known as pasteurisation. He created and tested vaccines for diphtheria, cholera, yellow fever, plague, rabies, anthrax, and tuberculosis.

Thalidomide first marketed in Germany – 1st October 1957

In 1957, on the 1st of October the notorious drug thalidomide was first marketed in West Germany and shortly sold in at least 46 countries. Patented by Chemie Grünenthal in 1953 as a sedative, it seemed a wonder drug for pregnant women to combat symptoms associated with morning sickness. However the drug’s molecules crossed the placental wall, tragically affecting the proper growth of the foetus. Worldwide, over 10,000 babies were born by the early 1960’s with substantial birth defects, including deafness, blindness, internal disabilities, cleft palate, deformed or even missing limbs. Survivors, now middle-aged adults, have continuing health problems.