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History of Biology

Southern (blot) exposure remains a useful technique

At a meeting recently, I asked two PhD molecular biologists about the last time they used a Southern blot. After nearly a minute of unrestrained laughter, they asked “Who on earth still does that?” “Maybe for a very, very specific use,” conjectured one of the scientists. When I asked the scientist who taught me the…

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A (very) Short History of Histology

Some recent conversations I have had got me to thinking about bioscience students and their first encounter with the word and the world of ‘histology’. In pursuing the study of biology and carving out a career in the life sciences, then each of us will no doubt need (or want) to use histology in our…

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Keeping up With the Periodic Table

The periodic table, that ingeniously arranged display of atomic weights, numbers and elements that’s probably posted on a door way in the back of your lab, isn’t a static document. It’s changed a fair amount in its lifetime, largely as weights are refined and new elements added. However in 2011, the International Union of Pure…

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How Plasmids Became Embroiled in The Cold War

The humble plasmid. We now know it so well, but as little as 60 years ago the field of extra-chromosomal heredity was decidedly murky. Not only was it the subject of great debate, conflict and friction within the scientific community, it was even used as a politico-religious tool during the Cold War! The origin of…

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Nobel Prizes in Molecular Biology

There are a lot of places to read about the history of molecular biology, but one theme that generally seems to emerge is that discoveries are dependent upon the experimental technology. Take this list of Nobel prizes for molecular biology for instance.

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A (Balanced) History Of Molecular Biology

If you’ve ever wondered how molecular biology came to prominence in biomedical research, why so many famous molecular biologists of the past century were trained as physicists, or when bacteriophages were first used as cloning vectors, you may be looking for a good read on the history of molecular biology. Unlike in evolutionary biology, where…

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NIH and English as the Language of Science

While there’s a lot in “For the Love of Enzymes” to talk about, for this post I’m focusing on just one passing reference that Arthur Kornberg makes on NIH and the use of English as the language of science. In it, Kornberg is describing the factors that made NIH a huge success…

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Birth of the Cell Doctrine

As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended to be familiar with the history of one’s scientific field, and not merely the contemporary trends of thought. That’s generally why I liked The Birth of the Cell so much when I read it. Dissatisfied by the standard accounts of the origin of the cell doctrine,…

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Relating to Historical Contingency in Biology

Two blog posts recently collided for me. First, in a blog discussion on Macroevolution vs. Microevolution, Allen MacNeill clarified some issues for me (thanks to TUIBG for bringing it back up): Add the newly emerging fields of evo-devo and epigenesis to the foregoing, and it is increasingly clear that macroevolution (i.e. cladogenesis) follows different rules…

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History of Cell Biology

The cell theory, or cell doctrine, states that all organisms are composed of similar units of organization, called cells. The concept was formally articulated in 1839 by Schleiden & Schwann and has remained as the foundation of modern biology. The idea predates other great paradigms of biology including Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859), Mendel’s laws…

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Arthur Kornberg, Biochemist

In memorandum of one of the pioneers of molecular biology, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine for the discovery of DNA polymerase. What molecular biology blog would this be if we didn’t honor his memory? Larry Moran presents a fine eulogy, as does the NYTimes: Dr. Arthur Kornberg, a biochemist whose Nobel Prize-winning…

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