History of Biology: Timeline & Significant Discoveries


The study of the living world may be traced all the way back to ancient times, as can be seen in the history of biology. Ayurveda, ancient Egyptian medicine, and the works of Aristotle and Galen in the ancient Greco-Roman world all contributed to the development of the biological sciences long before the concept of biology as a single coherent field emerged in the 19th century.

However, the biological sciences emerged from traditions of medicine and natural history dating back much further. During the Middle Ages, Muslim intellectuals and doctors, like as Avicenna, made significant contributions to the advancement of this ancient literature. Empiricism had a renaissance in Europe throughout the Renaissance and early modern era, which coincided with a revolution in biological thinking in that region as a result of the discovery of a great number of unique creatures.

Naturalists such as Linnaeus and Buffon, who began to classify the diversity of life and the fossil record, as well as the development and behavior of organisms, were prominent figures in this movement. Vesalius and Harvey were also important figures in this movement because they used experimentation and careful observation in the field of physiology.

Microscopy opened our eyes to a previously hidden world of microbes, which ultimately led to the development of the cell hypothesis. The increasing significance of natural theology, which was in part a reaction to the development of mechanical philosophy, was a driving force behind the expansion of natural history (although it entrenched the argument from design).


During the 18th and 19th centuries, fields of study within the biological sciences, such as botany and zoology, evolved into more professional scientific disciplines. Through the study of physics and chemistry, Lavoisier and other early physical scientists started to draw connections between the live and inanimate worlds. Explorator-naturalists like Alexander von Humboldt laid the groundwork for the disciplines of biogeography, ecology, and ethology via their investigations of the connection between organisms and their environments, as well as the manner in which this relationship relies on geography.

Naturalists started to turn away from the essentialism philosophy and focus more on the significance of species’ potential to change and disappear. The concept of cells brought a fresh viewpoint to our understanding of the basic building blocks of life.

These advancements, in addition to the findings from embryology and fossils, were compiled into Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which was presented in the form of a hypothesis. The hypothesis of spontaneous generation was disproven at the end of the 19th century, and the germ theory of illness gained popularity about the same time. Despite these developments, the process of heredity remained a mystery.


The rediscovery of Mendel’s work in the early 20th century led to the fast growth of genetics by Thomas Hunt Morgan and his followers. By the 1930s, this led to the coupling of population genetics and natural selection in what is known as the “neo-Darwinian synthesis.” Rapid progress was made in the development of new fields of study, particularly following Watson and Crick’s proposal of the structure of DNA.

As a result of the development of the Central Dogma and the deciphering of the genetic code, the field of biology was largely divided into two distinct subfields: the fields that deal with whole organisms and groups of organisms are known as organismal biology, and the fields that are related to cellular and molecular biology are known as cellular and molecular biology.

By the late 20th century, new fields such as genomics and proteomics were beginning to reverse this trend. Organismal biologists were beginning to use molecular techniques, and molecular and cell biologists were investigating the interaction between genes and the environment, in addition to the genetics of natural populations of organisms.

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