c.10,000 years ago: humans start to select and to domesticate plants and animals for agriculture.
1,800 BC: yeast is used to make unleavened bread (carbon dioxide), beer and wine (alcohol) - the first time humans employ microorganisms to create novel foods.
17th Century AD: the Dutch scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, first observes 'animalcules' (bacteria) through his primitive microscope.
1700s: in 1735, the Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, publishes his Systema Naturae, in which he lays down the principles for naming all living organisms and minerals (the 'Binomial System'). Naturalists begin to identify many kinds of hybrid plants.
1802/1809: in 1802, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, coins the word 'biology' and, in 1809, he outlines his Theory of Organic Evolution in Philosophie Zoologique.
1828: (NH4)CNO---->CO(NH2)2 - chemistry first connects with biology when the German chemist, Friederich Wöhler, produces 'organic' chemical urea from 'inorganic' chemical ammonium cyanate : "I must tell you that I can prepare urea without requiring a kidney or an animal, either man or dog." The age of molecular biology, the chemistry of life at the molecular level, can begin.
1858: the naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, publishes his paper entitled 'On the Tendency of Varieties from the Original Type', outlining his ideas on evolution.
1859: Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species, the first full synthesis concerning evolution through natural selection.
1861: Louis Pasteur helps to found the science of microbiology, defining for the first time the role of microorganisms.
1865: the Austrian naturalist and monk, Gregor Mendel, learns, from experiments on pea plants in his monastery garden, that certain 'particles' pass on traits from generation to generation according to identifiable rules of inheritance. Play at being Gregor Mendel: breed your own online hybrid peas.
1869: a Swiss chemist, Johann Miescher, discovers 'nuclein' in the nuclei of cells; this is later named nucleic acid and it is divided into two types: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).
1880s: in 1882 a German embryologist, Walther Fleming, recognises chromosomes in the nuclei of cells of salamander larvae; the famous German zoologist, August Weismann, proposes that chromosomes are the carriers of the hereditary instructions.
1901-3: an American zoologist, Walter S. Sutton, links chromosomes with Gregor Mendel's rules of inheritance.
1909: W. Johannsen coins the word 'gene'.
1910-20: T.H. Morgan shows that chromosomes are groups of linked genes.
1922: farmers in the USA first buy hybrid corn seed that has been created by crossing two corn plants. Between 1930 and 1985, hybrid corn increases US corn production by no less than 600 per cent.
1944: Oswald Avery at Rockefeller University, New York, identifies DNA as the 'transforming principle' that turns non-pathogenic bacteria into pathogenic bacteria. DNA is at last recognised as the fundamental substance responsible for the transmission of hereditary information.
1953: annus mirabilis - James Watson and Francis Crick discover the code for the 'double helix' structure of DNA, published in Nature, Vol. 171, April 1953, p. 737: 'A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid'. The paper ends with one of the greatest ever scientific understatements: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." For this breakthrough, along with Maurice Wilkins (but tragically not Rosalind Franklin, who died in 1958 aged only 37), they receive the Nobel Prize in 1962.
1966: through the work of many scientists, the fundamentals of the complete genetic code are finally established and synthesised by Gobind Khorana at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The 'Rosetta Stone' of genetics is seen to comprise 64 triplet sequences, or codons, each unique to a specific amino acid.
1967: the enzyme, DNA ligase, is isolated by Walter Gilbert at Harvard, thus providing the molecular glue that will allow the joining of strands of DNA together.
1970: the isolation of the first restiction enzyme, the molecular scissors that will allow the cutting of DNA at precise positions.
1970: Norman Borlaug wins the Nobel Prize for his work on 'Green Revolution', high yielding, wheat varieties.
1973: as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 1973, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen are the first to move a gene successfully from one organism to another. DNA fragments are joined to a plasmid, pSC101, that replicates without difficulty when introduced into Escherichia coli cells. The potential for gene cloning is established and modern biotechnology can begin.
1977: 24th February, in Nature, Frederick Sanger and his team publish the first genome (full gene sequence) for an 'organism', the bacteriophage, phi-X-174.
1980: Frederick Sanger, Cambridge University, and Walter Gilbert, Harvard University, jointly win the Nobel Prize for their different methods of sequencing DNA.
1982: the first major product of biotechnology: human insulin for the treatment of diabetes.
1983: the first biotech plants are produced by modern biotechnology.
1990: the first biotech food agent is approved for use in the USA, an enzyme employed in cheese making.
1994: the first food product, improved through modern biotechnology, appears on supermarket shelves - the famous FLAVR SAVR TM tomato.
1995: the first biotech soybean is produced.
1995: the first organism to have its complete genome analysed is the non-infectious Rd type of the bacterium, Haemophilus influenzae.
1996: in February, the world's first biotech wholefood goes on sale in hundreds of UK Safeway & Sainsbury supermarkets at 20% cheaper than the conventional equivalent. 1.8 million cans of labelled biotech tomato puree are sold successfully during the next three years.
1997: 18 biotech crop applications are fully approved in the USA.
1997: the complete genome of commercial yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is published, the first organism with nuclear membranes (eukaryote) to be sequenced fully.
1998: John Sulston, UK, and Bob Waterston, USA, sequence the first genome of a free-living animal, the tiny nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans.
1999: Swiss researchers announce the development of 'golden rice', rich in beta-carotene (hence Vitamin A) and iron, which it is hoped will help to counter childhood blindness and iron deficiency in up to 4 billion people in the developing world.
The New Millennium: the long story of biotechnology, including the sequencing of the human genome, will continue for the good of humankind throughout the world, helping us yet further to outstrip diseases, pests, environmental change, and population growth. It is surely one of our greatest adaptive achievements, a wonder to celebrate. The grand narrative is that of science as Galileo, as hero, vindicated, not that of the opium-induced ramblings of a Mary Shelley.