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Themesicon: navigation pathCyborg Bodiesicon: navigation pathTransgenic Bodies

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Biology and image form

Long before the discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or the formulation of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution [7] , artists rejected the—often postulated—division between art and science, not least on the grounds that scientists were often guided by aesthetic aspects in their research. [8] Darwin’s publications, «On the Origin of Species» (1859) [9] and «The Descent of Man» (1871), [10] are based on skilfully applied photographic strategies, thus it was only natural that, in turn, they elicited artistic responses and reflections. The German biologist, Ernst Haeckel, for example, promoted Darwin’s theories very successfully in the period 1899–1904 with his beautiful lithographs of radiolarians, marine protozoans. [11] In several of his works, Paul Klee derived his inspiration from the 1theory of evolution [12] and D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s book, «On Growth and Form» (1917), [13] aroused the interest of several abstract expressionist artists. [14]

The term gene was introduced in the literature in


the early years of the twentieth century, although it would take another fifty years before genes began to take on contours. In 1900, three articles appeared which cited the work of a hitherto unknown monk named Gregor Johann Mendel. The authors were Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak [15] and the articles concerned Mendel’s careful investigations on hybridisation of garden pea plants in the grounds of his monastery. Allegedly independently of one another, de Vries, Correns and Tschermak had «rediscovered» Mendel’s ideas on heredity, which he had formulated in the second half of the nineteenth century. [16] Mendel’s own published findings [17] were largely ignored during his lifetime; unlike the three papers published in 1900, the same year that Max Planck discovered the quantum effect. The three papers laid the foundations of a new scientific discipline that, in 1906, was given the name «genetics» [18] and less than a century later, rose to become the leading science in Western society.

For nineteenth-century biologists, the concept of heredity comprised both the «transmission of developmental properties through reproduction as well

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