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Molecularization was particularly important in genetics, immunology, embryology, and neurobiology, while the idea that life is controlled by a “genetic program”-a metaphor Jacob and Monod introduced from the emerging fields of cybernetics and computer science-became an influential perspective throughout biology. Resistance to the growing influence of molecular biology was especially evident in evolutionary biology. Immunology in particular became linked with molecular biology, with innovation flowing both ways: the clonal selection theory developed by Niels Jerne and Frank Macfarlane Burnet in the mid-1950s helped shed light on the general mechanisms of protein synthesis. Departments and disciplines fractured as organismic biologists asserted their importance and independence: Theodosius Dobzhansky made the famous statement that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” as a response to the molecular challenge. Protein sequencing had great potential for the quantitative study of evolution (through the molecular clock hypothesis), but leading evolutionary biologists questioned the relevance of molecular biology for answering the big questions of evolutionary causation.
By the 1880s, bacteriology was becoming a coherent discipline, especially through the work of Robert Koch, who introduced methods for growing pure cultures on agar gels containing specific nutrients in Petri dishes. The long-held idea that living organisms could easily originate from nonliving matter (spontaneous generation) was attacked in a series of experiments carried out by Louis Pasteur, while debates over vitalism vs. However, Friedrich Wöhler, Justus Liebig and other pioneers of the rising field of organic chemistry-building on the work of Lavoisier-showed that the organic world could often be analyzed by physical and chemical methods. In 1828 Wöhler showed that the organic substance urea could be created by chemical means that do not involve life, providing a powerful challenge to vitalism. In chemistry, one central issue was the distinction between organic and inorganic substances, especially in the context of organic transformations such as fermentation and putrefaction. Since Aristotle these had been considered essentially biological (vital) processes.
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