Famous Biologists

A history of biology in biography

famous biologists


This section, Famous Biologists, offers biographies describing the lives, contributions, and discoveries of renowned biologists from all eras of biology.

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 Lives of

Agassiz >>
Aldrovandi >>
Anning >>
Aristotle >>
Von Baer >>
Chargaff >>
Cuvier >>
Dart >>
Darwin >>
Gesner >>
De Vries >>
Goldschmidt >>
Humboldt >>
Ingenhousz >>
Kelsey >>
Lamarck >>
Leakeys >>
Linnaeus >>
Lyell >>
Mendel >>
Pliny >>
Sedgwick >>
Smith >>
Wallace >>
Xantus >>

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). Austrian scientist/monk. Showed inheritance of traits follows particular rules, now known as Mendel's Laws. In an fascinating, original article, guest author David Allen, discusses Mendel's hybridization research, and how it has been misrepresented at times by both sides of the modern debate between Darwinians and creationists. Read more >>

Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945). American geneticist. Elucidated the connection between meiosis and genetic segregation. His discoveries about genes and their locations on chromosomes helped make biology into an experimental science. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1933).


Daniel Nathans (1928-1999). American microbiologist. Shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Hamilton Smith and Werner Arber for the discovery of restriction endonucleases, which led to the development of recombinant DNA technology. Read more >>


Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD). Ancient Roman naturalist, also known as Gaius Plinius Secundus or Caius Plinius Secundus. Pliny's only surviving work, his great Natural History, covers nearly the entire field of ancient knowledge about the natural world. Read more >>


John Ray (1628-1705). English naturalist. Perhaps the most important classifier prior to Linnaeus. He was a leading figure in the movement to abandon the Scholastic tradition and base biological classification on the observed traits of organisms. Major works: Historia Plantarum (1686); Synopsis methodica Animalium Quadrupedum et Serpentini Generis (1693); Historia Insectorum (1710); Synopsis methodica Avium et Piscium (1713).

René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (1683-1757). French scientist. Made important contributions to many fields of biology, especially entomology, ornithology, and agriculture.


Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873). British paleontologist. Namer of the Devonian and Cambrian periods. One of the foremost scientists of his era. Read more >>

Hamilton O. Smith (1931-). American microbiologist. Shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Werner Arber and Daniel Nathans for the discovery of restriction endonucleases, which led to the development of recombinant DNA technology. Read more >>

William Smith (1769-1839). Established from geological evidence, independently of Cuvier, the fact that evolution has occurred over time. Read more >>


Edward Lawrie Tatum (1909-1975). American geneticist. By means of x-ray irradiation of the mold Neurospora crassa and screening of the resulting mutants, Tatum showed, with George Beadle, that mutations induced in genes corresponded to alterations in specific enzymes. This finding led to the acceptance of the one gene/one enzyme hypothesis. Shared with Beadle half of the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Read more >>

Howard Martin Temin (1934-). American geneticist. Shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Renato Dulbecco and David Baltimore for their discovery of reverse transcriptase. Read more >>

Theophrastus (c. 372 - c. 287 B.C.). Ancient Greek philosopher, successor of Aristotle as head of the Lyceum. His Enquiry into Plants (Historia plantarum) and Origins of Plants (Causae plantarum) are the beginning of all subsequent botanical thought. Remarkably, Theophrastus knew that plants engaged in sexual reproduction, a fact thereafter forgotten and not rediscovered until the eighteenth century.


Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). The founder of modern human anatomy. Born in Brussels near a hill where condemned criminals were tortured, executed, and left to rot, Vesalius must have been familiar with the details of human anatomy even as a child. As a medical professor, he went on to make the acquaintance intimate by handling and dissecting the bodies himself — this had been the job of underling barber-surgeons up to that time. Though bodies were in short supply, he used every means legal, and sometimes, illegal to get the materials he needed for his studies. In his memoirs he recalls forays by night to search the stakes and gibbets for classroom materials. His gristly habits paid off. Unlike his predecessors, Vesalius' drawings were based on direct observation. He transformed his field of research and forever changed the teaching of medicine. Vesalius' masterwork, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body, 1543, 1555), remained the basis of medical illustration for generations and still influences how we look at our bodies today.


Alfred Wallace (1823-1913). British naturalist. Developed the theory of natural selection independently of Charles Darwin. One of the most creative, adventurous, and amiable biologists of the 19th century. Read more >>

John Xantus (1825-1894) Hungarian naturalist. Collected and identified many new animals and plants in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Read more >>

Norton Zinder (1928-) American biologist. Discoverer of bacterial transduction, the transfer of genetic material from one bacterium to another by bacteriophages. This process is now much used in the intentional genetic transformation of bacteria.

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