1859 – Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species.
On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature by Charles Darwin which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Its full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In the 1872 sixth edition “On” was omitted, so the full title is The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. This edition is usually known as The Origin of Species. Darwin’s book introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. It presented a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution. Darwin included evidence that he had gathered on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s and his subsequent findings from research, correspondence, and experimentation.
Various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed to explain new findings in biology. There was growing support for such ideas among dissident anatomists and the general public, but during the first half of the 19th century the English scientific establishment was closely tied to the Church of England, while science was part of natural theology. Ideas about the transmutation of species were controversial as they conflicted with the beliefs that species were unchanging parts of a designed hierarchy and that humans were unique, unrelated to other animals. The political and theological implications were intensely debated, but transmutation was not accepted by the scientific mainstream.
The book was written for non-specialist readers and attracted widespread interest upon its publication. As Darwin was an eminent scientist, his findings were taken seriously and the evidence he presented generated scientific, philosophical, and religious discussion. The debate over the book contributed to the campaign by T. H. Huxley and his fellow members of the X Club to secularise science by promoting scientific naturalism. Within two decades there was widespread scientific agreement that evolution, with a branching pattern of common descent, had occurred, but scientists were slow to give natural selection the significance that Darwin thought appropriate. During “the eclipse of Darwinism” from the 1880s to the 1930s, various other mechanisms of evolution were given more credit. With the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s and 1940s, Darwin’s concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection became central to modern evolutionary theory, and it has now become the unifying concept of the life sciences.
1949 – Sally Davies, English hematologist and academic is born.
Dame Sally Claire Davies is the Chief Medical Officer for England, and previously Director General of Research and Development and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and National Health Service in the United Kingdom.
Davies was a member of the steering group for the Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team, chaired by Sir David Cooksey and its “refresh” the Health Care Industry Task Force, and is a member of the UK Health Innovation Council. She specialised in the research of sickle cell disease. She was a Consultant Haematologist at the Central Middlesex Hospital (North West London NHS Trust) from 1985–2011 and Professor of Haemoglobinopathies at Imperial College London from 1997–2011. In 2011, Davies was made Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London.
From June 2010, Davies was the interim Chief Medical Officer for HM Government and was confirmed as the permanent Chief Medical Officer in March 2011, the first woman to hold that post. In this role, Davies has written and spoken extensively about the rise of antimicrobial resistance including extensive work to raise the profile of resistance on the international agenda.
Davies is notable for her support of early-career doctors, handing editorship of each of her statutory annual reports to a young doctor, including controversial public health doctor Simon Howard. This represents the first time a Chief Medical Officer has appointed an external editor for their annual reports.
1974 – Donald Johanson and Tom Gray discover the 40% complete Australopithecus afarensis skeleton, nicknamed “Lucy” (after The Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia’s Afar Depression.
Lucy is the common name of AL 288-1, several hundred pieces of bone fossils representing 40 percent of the skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. In Ethiopia the assembly is also known as Dinkinesh, which means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language. Lucy was discovered in 1974 near the village Hadar in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson.
Usually, for the arduous practice of paleoanthropology in the field, only few fossils and fragments of fossils are collected, and only rarely are skulls or ribs uncovered intact. But the Lucy “find” was extraordinary for the large fraction of the skeleton recovered and the significant amount of new information it provided, and for its age.
The Lucy specimen is an early australopithecine and is dated to about 3.2 million years ago. The skeleton presents a small skull akin to that of non-hominin apes, plus evidence of a walking-gait that was bipedal and upright, akin to that of humans (and other hominins); this combination supports the (debated) view of human evolution that bipedalism preceded increase in brain size.
“Lucy” acquired her name from the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles, which was played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team’s first day of work on the recovery site. After public announcement of the discovery, Lucy captured much public interest, becoming almost a household name at the time.