Portal:Biology/Previous biographies

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This is a list of featured biographies from the Biology portal, sorted in reverse-chronological order.

August 16, 2011[edit]

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Clinton Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.

Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centered view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982 he introduced into evolutionary biology an influential concept, presented in his book The Extended Phenotype, that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms.

Dawkins is an atheist and humanist, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association and supporter of the Brights movement. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he described evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker. He has since written several popular science books, and makes regular television and radio appearances, predominantly discussing these topics. He has been referred to in the media as "Darwin's Rottweiler", a reference to English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's evolutionary ideas. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—a fixed false belief. As of January 2010 the English-language version has sold more than two million copies and had been translated into 31 languages, making it his most popular book to date.

April 1, 2011[edit]

Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723). Natuurkundige te Delft Rijksmuseum SK-A-957.jpeg

Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek (in Dutch also Anthonie, Antoni, or Theunis, in English, Antony or Anton; /ˈlvənhʊk/, Dutch: [ˈleːʋənˌhuːk] (About this sound listen); October 24, 1632 – August 26, 1723) was a Dutch tradesman and scientist from Delft, Netherlands. He is commonly known as "the Father of Microbiology", and considered to be the first microbiologist. He is best known for his work on the improvement of the microscope and for his contributions towards the establishment of microbiology. Using his handcrafted microscopes he was the first to observe and describe single celled organisms, which he originally referred to as animalcules, and which we now refer to as microorganisms. He was also the first to record microscopic observations of muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa and blood flow in capillaries (small blood vessels). Van Leeuwenhoek did not author any books, although he did write many letters.

February 4, 2011[edit]

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Charles Robert Darwin FRS (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist who established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry. He proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process which he called natural selection.

He published his theory, with compelling evidence for evolution, in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species. The scientific community and much of the general public came to accept evolution as a fact in his lifetime; however, it was not until the emergence of the modern evolutionary synthesis from the 1930s to the 1950s that a broad consensus developed that natural selection was the basic mechanism of evolution. In modified form, Darwin's scientific discovery is the unifying theory of the life sciences, explaining the diversity of life.

Darwin's second book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, was published in 1871 and examined human evolution and sexual selection. He later published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which concerned the biologically determined aspects of behaviour, as well as a series of books containing his research on plants. His final book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, examined earthworms and their effect on soil.

Darwin died at Down House on 19 April 1882. He had expected to be buried in St. Mary's churchyard at Downe, but at the request of Darwin's colleagues, William Spottiswoode (President of the Royal Society) arranged for Darwin to be given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey, close to John Herschel and Isaac Newton. Only five non-royal personages were granted such an honour during the 19th century.

January 11, 2011[edit]

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Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE (born Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall on 3 April 1934), is a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her 45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.

Goodall began studying the Kasakela chimpanzee community in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania in 1960. Without collegiate training directing her research, Goodall observed things that strict scientific doctrines may have overlooked. Instead of numbering the chimpanzees she observed, she gave them names such as Fifi and David Greybeard, and observed them to have unique and individual personalities, an unconventional idea at the time. She also observed behaviors such as hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and even tickling, what we consider "human" actions. These findings suggest similarities between humans and chimpanzees exist in more than genes alone, but can be seen in emotion, intelligence, and family and social relationships.

In 1977, Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), which supports the Gombe research, and she is a global leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats. With nineteen offices around the world, the JGI is widely recognized for innovative, community-centred conservation and development programs in Africa. Its global youth program, Roots & Shoots began in 1991 when a group of 16 local teenagers met with Goodall on her back porch in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They were eager to discuss a range of problems they knew about from first-hand experience that caused them deep concern. The organisation now has over 10,000 groups in over 100 countries.

October 27, 2010[edit]

Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the latter years of his life, Gould also taught Biology and Evolution at New York University near his home in SoHo.

Gould's greatest contribution to science was the theory of punctuated equilibrium which he developed with Niles Eldredge in 1972. The theory proposes that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which is punctuated by rare instances of branching evolution. The theory was contrasted against phyletic gradualism, the popular idea that evolutionary change is marked by a pattern of smooth and continuous change in the fossil record.

Most of Gould's empirical research was based on the land snails Poecilozonites and Cerion. He also contributed to evolutionary developmental biology, and has received wide praise for his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny. In evolutionary theory he opposed strict selectionism, sociobiology as applied to humans, and evolutionary psychology. He campaigned against creationism and proposed that science and religion should be considered two distinct fields, or "magisteria", whose authorities do not overlap.

April 24, 2008[edit]

Tawfiq Canaan (24 September 1882 – 15 January 1964) was a physician and pioneer in the field of medicine in Palestine, also well-known for being one of the foremost researchers of Palestinian popular heritage.

A medical officer in the Ottoman army in World War I and the first President of the Palestine Arab Medical Association established in 1944, Canaan authored more than 37 studies over the course of his medical career on tropical medicine and bacteriology, particularly malaria, and other topics, such as leprosy, tuberculosis, and health in Palestine.

Canaan's keen interest in Palestinian folklore, popular beliefs, and superstitions led to his collection of over 1,400 amulets, now held by Bir Zeit university in Ramallah. His published analyses of these and other folk traditions brought him recognition as an ethnographer and anthropologist. A member of the Palestine Oriental Society and The American School for Oriental Research, Canaan published a number of books and more than 50 articles in English and German on folklore and superstition that have served as valuable resources to researchers of Palestinian and Middle Eastern heritage ever since.

Canaan was also a Palestinian nationalist and outspoken public figure who wrote two books on the Palestine problem, which reflected his involvement in confronting British imperialism and Zionism. Arrested by the British authorities in 1939, his family home and clinic in Jerusalem destroyed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Canaan nevertheless managed to re-establish his life and career there. After taking sanctuary in a convent in the Old City with his family for two years, they eventually took up residence on the grounds of the Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives where Canaan served as the Director, and where they lived through his retirement until his death in 1964.

December 3, 2007[edit]

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Norman Ernest Borlaug (born March 25, 1914) is an American agricultural scientist, humanitarian, Nobel laureate, and has been called the father of the Green Revolution. Borlaug is one of five people in history to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Borlaug received his Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

More recently, he has helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa. Borlaug has continually advocated the use of his methods and biotechnology to decrease world famine. His work has faced environmental and socioeconomic criticisms, including charges that his methods have created dependence on monoculture crops, unsustainable farming practices, heavy indebtedness among subsistence farmers, and high levels of cancer among those who work with agriculture chemicals. He has emphatically rejected many of these as unfounded or untrue. In 1986, he established the World Food Prize to recognize individuals who have improved the quality, quantity or availability of food around the globe.

April 23, 2007[edit]

Alfred Russel Wallace, OM, FRS (January 8, 1823 – November 7, 1913) was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. He did extensive field work first in the Amazon River basin, and then in the Malay Archipelago, where he identified the Wallace line dividing the fauna of Australia from that of Asia.

He is best known for independently proposing a theory of natural selection which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own more developed and researched theory sooner than he had intended. He was also one of the leading evolutionary thinkers of the 19th century who made a number of other contributions to the development of evolutionary theory, including the concept of warning colouration in animals. Wallace was also considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the "father of biogeography".

Wallace was strongly attracted to radical ideas in politics, religion and science. His advocacy of spiritualism and his belief in a non material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with the scientific establishment, especially with other early proponents of evolution. He was a strong critic of what he considered to be an unjust social and economic system in 19th-century Britain. He was one of the first prominent scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity.


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Johann Georg Adam Forster (November 27, 1754 – January 10, 1794) was a German naturalist, ethnologist, travel writer, journalist, and revolutionary. At an early age, he accompanied his father on several scientific expeditions, including James Cook's second voyage to the Pacific. His report from that journey, A Voyage Round the World, contributed significantly to the ethnology of the people of Polynesia and remains a respected work among both scientists and ordinary readers. As a result of the report Forster was admitted to the Royal Society at the early age of twenty-two and came to be considered one of the founders of modern scientific travel literature.

After his return to continental Europe, Forster turned towards academics. From 1778 to 1784 he taught natural history at the Collegium Carolinum in Kassel and continued later at Academy of Vilna (1784-1787) until he accepted the position of head librarian at the University of Mainz in 1788. Most of his scientific work during this time consisted of essays on botany and ethnology, but he also prefaced and translated many books about travels and explorations, including a German translation of Cook's diaries.

Forster was a central figure of the Enlightenment in Germany, and corresponded with most of its adherents, including Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who was a close friend of his. His ideas and personality influenced strongly one of the greatest German scientists of the 19th century, Alexander von Humboldt. When the French took control of Mainz in 1792, Forster became one of the founders of the Jacobin Club there and went on to play a leading role in the Mainz Republic, the earliest republican state in Germany. During July 1793 and while he was in Paris as a delegate of the young Mainz Republic, Prussian and Austrian coalition forces regained control of the city and Forster was declared an outlaw. Unable to return to Germany and separated from his friends and family, he died in Paris of illness in early 1794.


Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was a British physical chemist and crystallographer who made important contributions to the understanding of the fine structures of DNA, viruses, coal and graphite. Franklin is best known for her contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. In the years following, she led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses. She died in 1958 of cancer of the ovary.


Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902 – September 2, 1992) was a pioneering American scientist and one of the world's most distinguished cytogeneticists. McClintock received her PhD in botany from Cornell University in 1927, where she was a leader in the development of maize cytogenetics. The field remained the focus of her research for the rest of her career. From the late 1920s, McClintock studied chromosomes and how they change during reproduction in maize. She developed the technique to visualize maize chromosomes and used microscopic analysis to demonstrate many fundamental genetic ideas, including genetic recombination by crossing-over during meiosis—a mechanism by which chromosomes exchange information. She produced the first genetic map for maize, linking regions of the chromosome with physical traits, and demonstrated the role of the telomere and centromere, regions of the chromosome that are important in the conservation of genetic information. She was recognized amongst the best in the field, awarded prestigious fellowships and elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1944.

During the 1940s and 1950s, McClintock discovered transposition and used it to show how genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on or off. She developed theories to explain the repression or expression of genetic information from one generation of maize plants to the next. Encountering skepticism of her research and its implications, she stopped publishing her data in 1953. Later, she made an extensive study of the cytogenetics and ethnobotany of maize races from South America. McClintock's research became well understood in the 1960s and 1970s, as researchers demonstrated the mechanisms of genetic change and genetic regulation that she had demonstrated in her maize research in the 1940s and 1950s. Awards and recognition of her contributions to the field followed, including the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to her in 1983 for the discovery of genetic transposition; to date, she has been the first and only woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in that category.


Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch (December 11, 1843 – May 27, 1910) was a German physician. He became famous for the discovery of the anthrax bacillus (1877), the tuberculosis bacillus (1882) and the cholera bacillus (1883) and for his development of Koch's postulates. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his tuberculosis findings in 1905. He is considered one of the founders of bacteriology.

His work on tuberculosis, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize, provided the intellectual framework that allowed subsequent researchers to identify causal agents of disease - Koch's postulates.

After Koch's success the quality of his own research declined (especially with the fiasco over his ineffective TB cure "tuberculin"), although his pupils found the organisms responsible for diphtheria, typhoid, pneumonia, gonorrhoea, cerebrospinal meningitis, leprosy, bubonic plague, tetanus, and syphilis, among others, by using his methods.

July 11, 2006[edit]

George Ledyard Stebbins, Jr. (January 6, 1906 — January 19, 2000) was an American botanist and geneticist who is widely regarded as one of the leading evolutionary biologists and botanists of the 20th century. Stebbins received his PhD in botany from Harvard University in 1931. He went on to the University of California, Berkeley where his work with E. B. Babcock on the genetic evolution of plant species and his association with a group of evolutionary biologists known as the Bay Area Biosystematists, led him to develop a comprehensive synthesis of plant evolution. His most important publication in this regard was Variation and Evolution in Plants, which combined genetics and Darwin's theory of natural selection, and is considered to be a major contribution to modern evolutionary synthesis.

From 1950, Stebbins was instrumental in the establishment of the Department of Genetics at the University of California, Davis. He was active in numerous organizations involved in the promotion of evolution, and science more generally, and was elected to the National Academy of Science. He was also involved in the development of evolution-based science programs for Californian high schools, and the conservation of rare plants in that state.

May 19, 2006[edit]

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Lynn Margulis (1938 —) is a biologist and University Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is best-known for her theory on eukaryotic organelle genesis, the endosymbiotic theory, which is now accepted in the mainstream as the explanation for how certain organelles were formed.

In 1966 Margulis wrote a theoretical paper entitled The Origin of Mitosing Eukaryotic Cells. The paper is considered a landmark in modern endosymbiotic theory. Margulis's endosymbiotic theory formulation is the first to rely on direct microbiological observations (as opposed to paleontological or zoological observations which were previously the norm for new works in evolutionary biology). The paper was initially heavily rejected, as symbiosis theories had been dismissed by mainstream biology at the time. Despite constant criticism of her ideas for decades, Margulis is famous for her tenacity in pushing her theory forward, despite the opposition she faced at the time.

The underlying theme of endosymbiotic theory, as formulated in 1966, was interdependence and cooperative existence of multiple prokaryotic (single celled) organisms; one organism engulfed another, yet both survived and eventually evolved over millions of years into eukaryotic cells. Her 1970 book, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, discusses her early work pertaining to this organelle genesis theory in detail. Currently, her endosymbiotic theory is recognized as the key method by which some organelles have arisen (see endosymbiotic theory for a discussion) and is widely accepted by mainstream scientifics. The endosymbiotic theory of organogenesis was actually proven in the 1980s, when the genetic material of mitochondria and chloroplasts was found to be different from that of nuclear DNA.

April 10, 2006[edit]

Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) was an Austrian monk who is often called the "father of genetics" for his study of the inheritance of traits in pea plants. Mendel showed that there was particular inheritance of traits according to his laws of inheritance. The significance of Mendel's work was not recognized until the turn of the 20th century.

It was not until the early 20th century that the importance of his ideas was realized. In 1900, his work was rediscovered by Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak. His results were quickly replicated, and genetic linkage quickly worked out. Biologists flocked to the theory, as while it was not yet applicable to many phenomena, it sought to give a genotypic understanding of heredity which they felt was lacking in previous studies of heredity which focused on phenotypic approaches. Most prominent of these latter approaches was the biometric school of Karl Pearson and W.F.R. Weldon, which was based heavily on statistical studies of phenotype variation. The strongest opposition to this school came from William Bateson, who perhaps did the most in the early days of publicizing the benefits of Mendel's theory (the word "genetics", and much of the discipline's other terminology, originated with Bateson). This debate between the biometricians and the Mendelians was extremely vigorous in the first two decades of the twentieth century, with the biometricians claiming statistical and mathematical rigor, while the Mendelians claimed a better understanding of biology. In the end, the two approaches were synthesized as the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology, especially by work conducted by Ronald Fisher in 1918.

March 8, 2006[edit]

Thomas Huxley

Thomas Huxley (1825 – 1895) was a British biologist known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his defence of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

His scientific debates against Richard Owen demonstrated that there were close similarities between the cerebral anatomy of humans and gorillas. Huxley did not accept many of Charles Darwin's ideas, such as gradualism, and was more interested in advocating a materialist professional science than in defending natural selection.

Thomas Huxley coined the term "agnosticism" to describe his stance on religious belief (see Thomas Henry Huxley and agnosticism). He is credited with inventing the concept of "biogenesis", a theory stating that all cells arise from other cells, and also "abiogenesis," describing the generation of life from non-living matter.

March 2, 2006[edit]

Thomas Malthus

Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919) was an eminent German biologist and philosopher who promoted Charles Darwin's work in Germany. Haeckel was a zoologist, an accomplished artist and illustrator, and later a professor of comparative anatomy. He was one of the first to consider psychology as a branch of physiology. He also proposed many now ubiquitous terms including "phylum" and "ecology." His chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of nature).

Haeckel advanced the "recapitulation theory" which proposed a link between ontogeny (development of form) and phylogeny (evolutionary descent), summed up in the phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". He supported the theory with embryo drawings that have since been shown to be inaccurate, and the theory is no longer generally accepted.

February 23, 2006[edit]

Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus, (1766 – 1834) was an English demographer and political economist best known for his pessimistic but highly influential views on population growth. Malthus' Principle of Population was based on the idea that population, if unchecked, increases at an exponential rate (i.e. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, etc.) whereas the food supply grows at a linear rate (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc.). Only natural causes (eg. accidents and old age), misery (war, pestilence, and above all famine), moral restraint and vice (which for Malthus included infanticide, murder, contraception and homosexuality) could check excessive population growth; otherwise, the end result would be catastrophe. Malthus' ideas figured prominently in the work of Charles Darwin, who partially based his theory of evolution on the idea of competition of species for limited resources.