Heredity, Race, and the Birth of the Modern

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All this indicates a definiteness and specific order in heredity, and therefore in variation. This order cannot by the nature of the case be dependent on Natural Selection for its existence, but must be a consequence of the fundamental chemical and physical nature of living things. The study of Variation had from the first shown that an orderliness of this kind was present. The bodies and the properties of living things are cosmic, not chaotic. No matter how low in the scale we go, never do we find the slightest hint of a diminution in that all-pervading orderliness, nor can we conceive an organism existing for a moment in any other state.

Race doesn’t come into it

Moreover not only does this order prevail in normal forms, but again and again it is to be seen in newly-sprung varieties, which by general consent cannot have been subjected to a prolonged Selection. The discovery of Mendelian elements admirably coincided with and at once gave a rationale of these facts. Genetic Variation is then primarily the consequence of additions to, or omissions from, the stock of elements which the species contains.

The further investigation of the species-problem must thus proceed by the analytical method which breeding experiments provide. In the nine years which have elapsed since Mendel's clue became generally known, progress has been rapid. We now understand the process by which a polymorphic race maintains its polymorphism. When a family consists of dissimilar members, given the numerical proportions in which these members are occurring, we can represent their composition symbolically and state what types can be transmitted by the various members.

Introduction to Heredity

The difficulty of the "swamping effects of intercrossing" is practically at an end. Even the famous puzzle of sex-limited inheritance is solved, at all events in its more regular manifestations, and we know now how it is brought about that the normal sisters of a colour-blind man can transmit the colour-blindness while his normal brothers cannot transmit it. We are still only on the fringe of the inquiry. It can be seen extending and ramifying in many directions. To enumerate these here would be impossible.

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A whole new range of possibilities is being brought into view by study of the interrelations between the simple factors. By following up the evidence as to segregation, indications have been obtained which can only be interpreted as meaning that when many factors are being simultaneously redistributed among the germ-cells, certain of them exert what must be described as a repulsion upon other factors.

We cannot surmise whither this discovery may lead. In the new light all the old problems wear a fresh aspect. Upon the question of the nature of Sex, for example, the bearing of Mendelian evidence is close. Elsewhere I have shown that from several sets of parallel experiments the conclusion is almost forced upon us that, in the types investigated, of the two sexes the female is to be regarded as heterozygous in sex, containing one unpaired dominant element, while the male is similarly homozygous in the absence of that element.

Those who have followed the researches of the American school will be aware that, after it had been found in certain insects that the spermatozoa were of two kinds according as they contained or did not contain the accessory chromosome, E. Wilson succeeded in proving that the sperms possessing this accessory body were destined to form females on fertilisation, while sperms without it form males, the eggs being apparently indifferent.

Perhaps the most striking of all this series of observations is that lately made by T. Of these, only those possessing the accessory body become functional spermatozoa, the others degenerating. We have thus an elucidation of the puzzling fact that in these forms fertilisation results in the formation of females only. How the males are formed -- for of course males are eventually produced by the parthenogenetic females -- we do not know.

If the accessory body is really to be regarded as bearing the factor for femaleness, then in Mendelian terms female is DD and male is DR. The eggs are indifferent and the spermatozoa are each male, or female. But according to the evidence derived from a study of the sex-limited descent of certain features in other animals the conclusion seems equally clear that in them female must be regarded as DR and male as RR.

The eggs are thus each either male or female and the spermatozoa are indifferent. How this contradictory evidence is to be reconciled we do not yet know. The breeding work concerns fowls, canaries, and the Currant moth Abraxas grossulariata. Nearly allied types may differ. In some it is altogether unpaired. In others it is paired with a body of much smaller size, and by selection of various types all gradations can be demonstrated ranging to the condition in which the members of the pair are indistinguishable from each other. At first sight it seems difficult to suppose that a feature apparently so fundamental as sex should be differently constituted in different animals, but that seems at present the least improbable inference.

I mention these two groups of facts as illustrating the nature and methods of modern genetic work. We must proceed by minute and specific analytical investigation. Wherever we look we find traces of the operation of precise and specific rules.


  1. Mendelian inheritance?
  2. Symmetries in quantum mechanics : from angular momentum to supersymmetry;
  3. Heredity and Variation in Modern Lights by William Bateson?
  4. Sara Eigen Figal (Author of Heredity, Race, and the Birth of the Modern)?
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In the light of present knowledge it is evident that before we can attack the Species-problem with any hope of success there are vast arrears to be made up. He would be a bold man who would now assert that there was no sense in which the term Species might not have a strict and concrete meaning in contradistinction to the term Variety.

The Weird, Ever-Evolving Story of Your DNA - The Atlantic

We have been taught to regard the difference between species and variety as one of degree. I think it unlikely that this conclusion will bear the test of further research. To Darwin the question, What is a variation? Any difference between parent and offspring was a variation. Now we have to be more precise.


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  • First we must, as de Vries has shown, distinguish real, genetic, variation from fluctuational variations, due to environmental and other accidents, which cannot be transmitted. Having excluded these sources of error the variations observed must be expressed in terms of the factors to which they are due before their significance can be understood. For example, numbers of the variations seen under domestication, and not a few witnessed in nature, are simply the consequence of some ingredient being in an unknown way omitted from the composition of the varying individual.

    The variation may on the contrary be due to the addition of some new element, but to prove that it is so is by no means an easy matter.


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    • Casual observation is useless, for though these latter variations will always be dominants, yet many dominant characteristics may arise from another cause, namely the meeting of complementary factors, and special study of each case in two generations at least is needed before these two phenomena can be distinguished. When such considerations are fully appreciated it will be realised that medleys of most dissimilar occurrences are all confused together under the term Variation.

      One of the first objects of genetic analysis is to disentangle this mass of confusion. To those who have made no study of heredity it sometimes appears that the question of the effect of conditions in causing variation is one which we should immediately investigate, but a little thought will show that before any critical inquiry into such possibilities can be attempted, a knowledge of the working of heredity under conditions as far as possible uniform must be obtained.

      At the time when Darwin was writing, if a plant brought into cultivation gave off an albino variety, such an event was without hesitation ascribed to the change of life. Now we see that albino gametes , germs, that is to say, which are destitute of the pigment-forming factor, may have been originally produced by individuals standing an indefinite number of generations back in the ancestry of the actual albino , and it is indeed almost certain that the variation to which the appearance of the albino is due cannot have taken place in a generation later than that of the grandparents.

      It is true that when a new dominant appears we should feel greater confidence that we were witnessing the original variation, but such events are of extreme rarity, and no such case has come under the notice of an experimenter in modern times, as far as I am aware.

      That they must have appeared is clear enough. Nothing corresponding to the Brown-breasted Game fowl is known wild, yet that colour is a most definite dominant, and at some moment since Gallus bankiva was domesticated, the element on which that special colour depends must have at least once been formed in the germ-cell of a fowl; but we need harder evidence than any which has yet been produced before we can declare that this novelty came through over-feeding, or change of climate, or any other disturbance consequent on domestication. When we reflect on the intricacies of genetic problems as we must now conceive them there come moments when we feel almost thankful that the Mendelian principles were unknown to Darwin.

      The time called for a bold pronouncement, and he made it, to our lasting profit and delight. With fuller knowledge we pass once more into a period of cautious expectation and reserve. In every arduous enterprise it is pleasanter to look back at difficulties overcome than forward to those which still seem insurmountable, but in the next stage there is nothing to be gained by disguising the fact that the attributes of living things are not what we used to suppose.

      The circumstances of its occurrence here preclude any suggestion that this regularity has been brought about by the workings of Selection. The attempts thus to represent the phenomena have resulted in mere parodies of scientific reasoning. To begin with, we must relegate Selection to its proper place.

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      Selection permits the viable to continue and decides that the non-viable shall perish ; just as the temperature of our atmosphere decides that no liquid carbon shall be found on the face of the earth: but we do not suppose that the form of the diamond has been gradually achieved by a process of Selection. So again, as the course of descent branches in the successive generations, Selection determines along which branch Evolution shall proceed, but it does not decide what novelties that branch shall bring forth.

      Not till knowledge of the genetic properties of organisms has attained to far greater completeness can evolutionary speculations have more than a suggestive value. By genetic experiment, cytology and physiological chemistry aiding, we may hope to acquire such knowledge. If we were asked what discovery would do most to forward our inquiry, what one bit of knowledge would more than any other illuminate the problem, I think we may give the answer without hesitation.

      The greatest advance that we can foresee will be made when it is found possible to connect the geometrical phenomena of development with the chemical.

      By the 17th century, America’s slave economy had eliminated the obstacle of morality.

      The geometrical symmetry of living things is the key to a knowledge of their regularity, and the forces which cause it. In the symmetry of the dividing cell the basis of that resemblance we call Heredity is contained. To imitate the morphological phenomena of life we have to devise a system which can divide.

      It must be able to divide, and to segment as -- grossly -- a vibrating plate or rod does, or as an icicle can do as it becomes ribbed in a continuous stream of water; but with this distinction, that the distribution of chemical differences and properties must simultaneously be decided and disposed in orderly relation to the pattern of the segmentation.