Regeneration: Thomas Hunt Morgan's window into development

J Hist Biol. Summer 2010;43(2):325-61. doi: 10.1007/s10739-009-9203-2.


Early in his career Thomas Hunt Morgan was interested in embryology and dedicated his research to studying organisms that could regenerate. Widely regarded as a regeneration expert, Morgan was invited to deliver a series of lectures on the topic that he developed into a book, Regeneration (1901). In addition to presenting experimental work that he had conducted and supervised, Morgan also synthesized and critiqued a great deal of work by his peers and predecessors. This essay probes into the history of regeneration studies by looking in depth at Regeneration and evaluating Morgan's contribution. Although famous for his work with fruit fly genetics, studying Regeneration illuminates Morgan's earlier scientific approach which emphasized the importance of studying a diversity of organisms. Surveying a broad range of regenerative phenomena allowed Morgan to institute a standard scientific terminology that continues to inform regeneration studies today. Most importantly, Morgan argued that regeneration was a fundamental aspect of the growth process and therefore should be accounted for within developmental theory. Establishing important similarities between regeneration and development allowed Morgan to make the case that regeneration could act as a model of development. The nature of the relationship between embryogenesis and regeneration remains an active area of research.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryology / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Regeneration*
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Thomas Hunt Morgan