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Heredity is the passing of traits to offspring (from its parent or ancestors). This is the process by which an offspring cell or organism acquires or becomes predisposed to the characteristics of its parent cell or organism. Through heredity, variations exhibited by individuals can accumulate and cause a species to evolve. The study of heredity in biology is called genetics, which includes the field of epigenetics.



The ancients had a variety of ideas about heredity: Theophrastus proposed that male flowers caused female flowers to ripen; Hippocrates speculated that "seeds" were produced by various body parts and transmitted to offspring at the time of conception, and Aristotle thought that male and female semen mixed at conception. Aeschylus, in 458 BC, proposed the male as the parent, with the female as a "nurse for the young life sown within her".

Various hereditary mechanisms were envisaged without being properly tested or quantified. These included blending inheritance and the inheritance of acquired traits. Nevertheless, people were able to develop domestic breeds of animals as well as crops through artificial selection. The inheritance of acquired traits also formed a part of early Lamarckian ideas on evolution.

In the 9th century AD, the Afro-Arab writer Al-Jahiz considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the struggle for existence.[1][2] His ideas on the struggle for existence in the Book of Animals have been summarized as follows:

"Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring."[3]

In 1000 AD, the Arab physician, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (known as Albucasis in the West), wrote the first clear description of haemophilia, a hereditary genetic disorder, in his Al-Tasrif. In this work, he wrote of an Andalusian family whose males died of bleeding after minor injuries.[4]

During the 1700s, Dutch microscopist Antoine van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) discovered "animalcules" in the sperm of humans and other animals. Some scientists speculated they saw a "little man" (homunculus) inside each sperm. These scientists formed a school of thought known as the "spermists". They contended the only contributions of the female to the next generation were the womb in which the homunculus grew, and prenatal influences of the womb. An opposing school of thought, the ovists, believed that the future human was in the egg, and that sperm merely stimulated the growth of the egg. Ovists thought women carried eggs containing boy and girl children, and that the gender of the offspring was determined well before conception.

Pangenesis was an idea that males and females formed "pangenes" in every organ. These pangenes subsequently moved through their blood to the genitals and then to the children. The concept originated with the ancient Greeks, and influenced biology until as recently as a century ago. The terms "blood relative", "bloodline", "full-blooded", and "royal blood" are relics of pangenesis. Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin, experimentally tested and disproved pangenesis during the 1870's.

Types of heredity

Dominant and recessive

An allele is said to be dominant if it is always expressed in the appearance of an organism(phenotype). For example, in peas the allele for green pods, G, is dominant to that for yellow pods, g. Since the allele for green pods is dominant, pea plants with the pair of alleles GG (homozygote) or Gg (heterozygote) will have green pods. The allele for yellow pods is recessive. The effects of this allele are only seen when it is present on both chromosomes, gg (homozygote). [by: Qurat-ul-ain Basit. Lahore, Pakistan]

The description of a mode of biological inheritance consists of three main categories:

1. Number of involved loci
2. Involved chromosomes
3. Correlation genotypephenotype

These three categories are part of every exact description of a mode of inheritance in the above order. Additionally, more specifications may be added as follows:

4. Coincidental and environmental interactions
5. Sex-linked interactions
6. Locus–locus interactions

Determination and description of a mode of inheritance is primarily achieved through statistical analysis of pedigree data. In case the involved loci are known, methods of molecular genetics can also be employed.

Charles Darwin: theory of evolution

Charles Darwin proposed a theory of evolution in 1859 and one of its major problems was the lack of an underlying mechanism for heredity. Darwin believed in a mix of blending inheritance and the inheritance of acquired traits (pangenesis). Blending inheritance would lead to uniformity across populations in only a few generations and thus would remove variation from a population on which natural selection could act. This led to Darwin adopting some Lamarckian ideas in later editions of On the Origin of Species and his later biological works. Darwin's primary approach to heredity was to outline how it appeared to work (noticing that traits could be inherited which were not expressed explicitly in the parent at the time of reproduction, that certain traits could be sex-linked, etc.) rather than suggesting mechanisms.

Darwin's initial model of heredity was adopted by, and then heavily modified by, his cousin Francis Galton, who laid the framework for the biometric school of heredity. Galton rejected the aspects of Darwin's pangenesis model which relied on acquired traits.

The inheritance of acquired traits was shown to have little basis in the 1880s when August Weismann cut the tails off many generations of mice and found that their offspring continued to develop tails.

Gregor Mendel: father of modern genetics

The idea of particulate inheritance of genes can be attributed to the Moravian[5] monk Gregor Mendel who published his work on pea plants in 1865. However, his work was not widely known and was rediscovered in 1901. It was initially assumed the Mendelian inheritance only accounted for large (qualitative) differences, such as those seen by Mendel in his pea plants — and the idea of additive effect of (quantitative) genes was not realised until R.A. Fisher's (1918) paper on The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance.

Modern development of genetics and heredity

In the 1930s, work by Fisher and others resulted in a combination of Mendelian and biometric schools into the modern evolutionary synthesis. The modern synthesis bridged the gap between experimental geneticists and naturalists; and between both and palaeontologists, stating that:[6][7]

  1. All evolutionary phenomena can be explained in a way consistent with known genetic mechanisms and the observational evidence of naturalists.
  2. Evolution is gradual: small genetic changes, recombination ordered by natural selection. Discontinuities amongst species (or other taxa) are explained as originating gradually through geographical separation and extinction (not saltation).
  3. Selection is overwhelmingly the main mechanism of change; even slight advantages are important when continued. The object of selection is the phenotype in its surrounding environment. The role of genetic drift is equivocal; though strongly supported initially by Dobzhansky, it was downgraded later as results from ecological genetics were obtained.
  4. The primacy of population thinking: the genetic diversity carried in natural populations is a key factor in evolution. The strength of natural selection in the wild was greater than expected; the effect of ecological factors such as niche occupation and the significance of barriers to gene flow are all important.
  5. In palaeontology, the ability to explain historical observations by extrapolation from micro to macro-evolution is proposed. Historical contingency means explanations at different levels may exist. Gradualism does not mean constant rate of change.

The idea that speciation occurs after populations are reproductively isolated has been much debated. In plants, polyploidy must be included in any view of speciation. Formulations such as 'evolution consists primarily of changes in the frequencies of alleles between one generation and another' were proposed rather later. The traditional view is that developmental biology ('evo-devo') played little part in the synthesis, but an account of Gavin de Beer's work by Stephen Jay Gould suggests he may be an exception.[8]

Almost all aspects of the synthesis have been challenged at times, with varying degrees of success. There is no doubt, however, that the synthesis was a great landmark in evolutionary biology. It cleared up many confusions, and was directly responsible for stimulating a great deal of research in the post-World War II era.

Trofim Lysenko however caused a backlash of what is now called Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union when he emphasised Lamarckian ideas on the inheritance of acquired traits. This movement affected agricultural research and led to food shortages in the 1960s and seriously affected the USSR.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Conway Zirkle (1941). Natural Selection before the "Origin of Species", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 84 (1), p. 71-123.
  2. ^ Mehmet Bayrakdar (Third Quarter, 1983). "Al-Jahiz And the Rise of Biological Evolutionism", The Islamic Quarterly. London. [1]
  3. ^ Gary Dargan, Intelligent Design, Encounter, ABC.
  4. ^ Patricia Skinner (2001), Unani-tibbi, Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine
  5. ^ Henig, Robin Marantz (2000). The Monk in the Garden : The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-97765-7. "The article, written by an obscure Moravian monk named Gregor Mendel" 
  6. ^ Mayr & Provine 1998
  7. ^ Mayr E. 1982. The growth of biological thought: diversity, evolution & inheritance. Harvard, Cambs. p567 et seq.
  8. ^ Gould S.J. Ontogeny and phylogeny. Harvard 1977. p221-2

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HEREDITY, in biological science, the name given to the generalization, drawn from the observed facts, that animals and plants closely resemble their progenitors. (That the .resemblance is not complete involves in the first place the subject of variation (see Variation And Selection); but it must be clearly stated that there is no adequate ground for the current loose statements as to the existence of opposing " laws " or " forces " of heredity and variation.) In the simplest cases there seems to be no separate problem of heredity. When a creeping plant propagates itself by runners, when a Nais or Myrianida breaks up into a series of similar segments, each of which becomes a worm like the parent, we have to do with the general fact that growing organisms tend to display a symmetrical repetition of equivalent parts, and that reproduction by fission is simply a special case of metamerism. When we try to answer the question why the segments of an organism resemble one another, whether they remain in association to form a segmented animal, or break into different animals, we come to the conclusion, which at least is on the way to an answer, that it is because they are formed from pieces of the same protoplasm, growing under similar conditions. It is apparently a fundamental property of protoplasm to be able to multiply by division into parts, the properties of which are similar to each other and to those of the parent.

This leads us directly to the cases of reproduction where there is an obvious problem of heredity. In the majority of cases among animals and plants the new organisms arise from portions of living matter, separated from the parents, but different from the parents in size and structure. These germs of the new organisms may be spores, reproductive cells, fused reproductive cells or multicellular masses (see Reproduction). For the present purpose it is enough to state that they consist of portions of the parental protoplasm. These pass through an embryological history, in which by growth, multiplication and specialization they form structures closely resembling the parents. Now, if it could be shown that these reproductive masses arose directly from the reproductive masses which formed the parent body, the problems of heredity would be extremely simplified. If the first division of a reproductive cell set apart one mass to lie dormant for a time and ultimately to form the reproductive cells of the new generation, while the other mass, exactly of the same kind, developed directly into the new organism, then heredity would simply be a delayed case of what is called organic symmetry, the tendency of similar living material to develop in similar ways under the stimulus of similar external conditions. The cases in which this happens are very rare. In the Diptera the first division of the egg-cell separates the nuclear material of the subsequent reproductive cells from the material that is elaborated into the new organism to contain these cells. In the Daphnidae and in Sagitta a similar separation occurs at slightly later stages; in vertebrates it occurs much later; while in some hydroids the germ-cells do not arise in the individual which is developed from the egg-cell at all, but in a much later generation, which is produced from the first by budding. However, it is not necessary to dismiss the fertile idea of what Moritz Nussbaum and August Weismann, who drew attention to it, called " continuity of the germ-plasm." Weismann has shown that an actual series of organic forms might be drawn up in which the formation of germ-cells begins at stages successively more remote from the first division of the egg-cell. He has also shown evidence, singularly complete in the case of the hydroids, for the existence of an actual migration of the place of formation of the germ-cells, the migration reaching farther and farther from the egg-cell. He has elaborated the conception of the germ-track, a chain of cell generations in the development of any creature along which the reproductive material saved over from the development of one generation for the germ-cells of the next generation is handed on in a latent condition to its ultimate position. And thus he supposes a real continuity of the germ-plasm, extending from generation to generation in spite of the apparent discontinuity in the observed cases. The conception certainly ranks among the most luminous and most fertile contributions of the 19th century to biological thought, and it is necessary to examine at greater length the superstructure which Weismann has raised upon it.

Table of contents

Weismann's Theory of the Germ-plasm

A living being takes its individual origin only where there is separated from the stock of the parent a little piece of the peculiar reproductive plasm, the so-called germ-plasm. In sexless reproduction one parent is enough; in sexual reproduction equivalent masses of germplasm from each parent combine to form the new individual. The germ-plasm resides in the nucleus of cells, and Weismann identifies it with the nuclear material named chromatin. Like ordinary protoplasm, of which the bulk of cell bodies is composed, germ-plasm is a living material, capable of growing in bulk without alteration of structure when it is supplied with appropriate food. But it is a living material much more complex than protoplasm. In the first place, the mass of germ-plasm which is the starting-point of a new individual consists of several, sometimes of many, pieces named " idants," which are either the chromosomes into a definite number of which the nuclear material of a dividing cell breaks up, or possibly smaller units named chromomeres. These idants are a collection of " ids," which Weismann tentatively identifies with the microsomata contained in the chromosomes, which are visible after treatment with certain reagents. Each id contains all the possibilities generic, specific, individual - of a new organism, or rather the directing substance which in appropriate surroundings of food, &c., forms a new organism. Each id is a veritable microcosm, possessed of an historic architecture that has been elaborated slowly through the multitudinous series of generations that stretch backwards in time from every living individual. This microcosm, again, consists of a number of minor vital units called " determinants," which cohere according to the architecture of the whole id. The determinants are hypothetical units corresponding to the number of parts of the organism independently variable. Lastly, each determinant consists of a number of small hypothetical units, the " biophores." These are adaptations of a conception of H. de Vries, and are supposed to become active by leaving the nucleus of the cell in which they lie, passing out into the general protoplasm of the cell and ruling its activities. Each new individual begins life as a nucleated cell, the nucleus of which contains germ-plasm of this complex structure derived from the parent. The reproductive cell gives rise to the new individual by continued absorption of food, by growth, cell-divisions and cell-specializations. The theory supposes that the first divisions of the nucleus are " doubling," or homogeneous divisions. The germ-plasm has grown in bulk without altering its character in any respect, and, when it divides, each resulting mass is precisely alike. From these first divisions a chain of similar doubling divisions stretches along the " germ-tracks," so marshalling unaltered germ-plasm to the generative organs of the new individual, to be ready to form the germ-cells of the next generation. In this mode the continuity of the germ-plasm from individual to individual is maintained. This also is the immortality of the germ-cells, or rather of the germ-plasm, the part of the theory which has laid so large a hold on the popular imagination, although it is really no more than a reassertion in new terms of biogenesis. With this also is connected the celebrated denial of the inheritance of acquired characters. It seemed a clear inference that, if the hereditary mass for the daughters were separated off from the hereditary mass that was to form the mother, at the very first, before the body of the mother was formed, the daughters were in all essentials the sisters of their mother, and could take from her nothing of any characters that might be impressed on her body in subsequent development. In the later elaboration of his theory Weismann has admitted the possibility of some direct modification of the germ-plasm within the body of the individual acting as its host.

The mass of germ-plasm which is not retained in unaltered form to provide for the generative cells is supposed to be employed for the elaboration of the individual body. It grows, dividing and multiplying, and forms the nuclear matter of the tissues of the individual, but the theory supposes this process to occur in a peculiar fashion. The nuclear divisions are what Weismann calls " differentiating " or heterogeneous divisions. In them the microcosms of the germ-plasm are not doubled, but slowly disintegrated in accordance with the historical architecture of the plasm, each division differentiating among the determinants and marshalling one set into one portion, another into another portion. There are differences in the observed facts of nuclear division which tend to support the theoretical possibility of two sorts of division, but as yet these have not been correlated definitely with the divisions along the germ-tracks and the ordinary divisions of embryological organogeny. The theoretical conception is, that when the whole body is formed, the cells contain only their own kind of determinants, and it would follow from this that the cells of the tissues cannot give rise to structures containing germ-plasm less disintegrated than their own nuclear material, and least of all to reproductive cells which must contain the undisintegrated microcosms of the germ-plasm. Cases of bud-formation and of reconstructions of lost parts (see Regeneration Of Lost Parts) are regarded as special adaptations made possible by the provision of latent groups of accessory determinants, to become active only on emergency.

It is to be noticed that Weismann's conception of the processes of ontogeny is strictly evolutionary, and in so far is a reversion to the general opinion of biologists of the 17th and 18th centuries. These supposed that the germ-cell contained an image-in-little of the adult, and that the process of development was a mere unfolding or evolution of this, under the influence of favouring and nutrient forces. Hartsoeker, indeed, went so far as to figure the human spermatozoon with a mannikin seated within the " head," and similar extremes of imagination were indulged in by other writers for the spermatozoon or ovum, according to the view they took of the relative importance of these two bodies. C. F. Wolff, in his Theoria generationis (1759), was the first distinguished anatomist to make assault on these evolutionary views, but his direct observations on the process. of development were not sufficient in bulk nor in clarity of interpretation to convince his contemporaries. Naturally the improved methods and vastly greater knowledge of modern days have made evolution in the old sense an impossible conception; we know that the egg is morphologically unlike the adult, that various external conditions are necessary for its subsequent progress through a slow series of stages, each of which is unlike the adult, but gradually approaching it until the final condition is reached. None the less, Weismann's theory supposes that the important determining factor in these gradual changes lies in the historical architecture of the germplasm, and from the theoretical point of view his theory remains strictly an unfolding, a becoming manifest of hidden complexity.

Hertwig's View

The chief modern holder of the rival view, and the writer who has put together in most cogent form the objections to Weismann's theory, is Oscar Hertwig. He points out that there is no direct evidence for the existence of differentiating as opposed to doubling divisions of the nuclear matter, and, moreover, he thinks that there is very generally diffused evidence as to the universality of doubling division. In the first place, there is the fundamental fact that single-celled organisms exhibit only doubling division, as by that the persistence of species which actually occurs alone is possible. In the case of higher plants, the widespread occurrence of tissues with power of reproduction, the occurrence of budding in almost any part of the body in lower animals and in plants, and the widespread powers of regeneration of lost parts, are easily intelligible if every cell like the egg-cell has been formed by doubling division, and so contains the germinal material for every part of the organism, and thus, on the call of special conditions, can become a germ-cell again. He lays special stress on those experiments in which the process of development has been interfered with in various ways at various stages, as showing that the cells which arise from the division of the egg-cell were not predestined unalterably for a particular role, according to a predetermined plan. He dismisses Weismann's suggestion of the presence of accessory determinants which remain latent unless they happen to be required, as being too complicated a supposition to be supported without exact evidence, a view in which he has received strong support from those who have worked most at the experimental side of the question. From consideration of a large number of physiological facts, such as the results of grafting, transplantations of tissues and transfusions of blood, he concludes that the cells of an organism possess, in addition to their patent microscopical characters, latent characters peculiar to the species, and pointing towards a fundamental identity of the germinal substance in every cell.

The Nuclear Matter

Apart from these two characteristic protagonists of extreme and opposing views, the general consensus of biological opinion does not take us very far beyond the plainest facts of observation. The resemblances of heredity are due to the fact that the new organism takes its origin from a definite piece of the substance of its parent or parents. This piece always contains protoplasm, and as the protoplasm of every animal and plant appears to have its own specific reactions, we cannot exclude this factor; indeed many, following the views of M. Verworn, and seeing in the specific metabolisms of protoplasm a large part of the meaning of life, attach an increasing importance to the protoplasm in the hereditary mass. Next, it always contains nuclear matter, and, in view of the extreme specialization of the nuclear changes in the process of maturation and fertilization of the generative cells, there is more than sufficient reason for believing that the nuclear substance, if not actually the specific germ-plasm, is of vast importance in heredity. The theory of its absolute dominance depends on a number of experiments, the interpretation of which is doubtful. Moritz Nussbaum showed that in Infusoria non-nucleated fragments of a cell always died, while nucleated fragments were able to complete themselves; but it may be said with almost equal confidence that nuclei separated from protoplasm also invariably die - at least, all attempts to preserve them have failed. Hertwig and others, in their brilliant work on the nature of fertilization, showed that the process always involved the entrance into the female cell of the nucleus of the male cell, but we now know that part of the protoplasm of the spermatozoon also enters. T. Boveri made experiments on the cross-fertilization of nonnucleated fragments of the eggs of Sphaerechinus granularis with spermatozoa of Echinus microtuberculatus, and obtained dwarf larvae with only the paternal characters; but the nature of his experiments was not such as absolutely to exclude doubt. Finally, in addition to the nucleus and the protoplasm, another organism of the cell, the centrosome, is part of the hereditary mass. In sum, while most of the evidence points to a preponderating importance of the nuclear matter, it cannot be said to be an established proposition that the nuclear matter is the germ-plasm. Nor are we yet definitely in a position to say that the germinal mass (nuclear matter, protoplasm, &c., of the reproductive cells) differs essentially from the general substance of the organism - whether, in fact, there is continuity of germ-plasm as opposed to continuity of living material from individual to individual. The origin of sexual cells from only definite places, in the vast majority of cases, and such phenomena as the phylogenetic migration of their place of origin among the Hydromedusae, tell strongly in favour of Weismann's conception. Early experiments on dividing eggs, in which, by separation or transposition, cells were made to give rise to tissues and parts of the organism which in the natural order they would not have produced, tell strongly against any profound separation between germ-plasm and body-plasm. It is also to be noticed that the failure of germ-cells to arise except in specific places may be only part of the specialized ordering of the whole body, and does not necessarily involve the interpretation that reproductive material is absolutely different in kind.


Hitherto we have considered the material bearer of heredity apart from the question of sexual union, and we find that the new organism takes origin from a portion of living matter, forming a material which may be called germplasm, in which resides the capacity to correspond to the same kind of surrounding forces as stimulated the parent germ-plasm by growth of the same fashion. In many cases (e.g. asexual spores) the piece of germ-plasm comes from one parent, and from an organ or tissue not associated with sexual reproduction; in other cases (parthenogenetic eggs) it comes from the ovary of a female, and may have the apparent characters of a sexual egg, except that it develops without fertilization; here also are to be included the cases where normal female ova have been induced to develop, not by the entrance of a spermatozoon, but by artificial chemical stimulation. In such cases the problem of heredity does not differ fundamentally from the symmetrical repetition of parts. In most of the higher plants and animals, however, sexual reproduction is the normal process, and from our present point of view the essential feature of this is that the germ-plasm which starts the new individual (the fertilized egg) is derived from the male (the spermatozoon) and from the female parent (the ovum). Although it cannot yet be set down sharply as a general proposition, there is considerable evidence to show that in the preparation of the ovum and spermatozoon for fertilization the nuclear matter of each is reduced by half (reducing division of the chromosomes), and that fertilization means the restoration of the normal bulk in the fertilized cell by equal contributions from male and female. So far as the known facts of this process of union of germ-plasms go, they take us no farther than to establish such a relation between the offspring and two parents as exists between the offspring and one parent in the other cases. Amphimixis has a vast importance in the theory of evolution (Weismann, for instance, regards it as the chief factor in the production of variations); for its. relation to heredity we are as yet dependent on empirical observations.

Heredity and Development

The actual process by which the germinal mass slowly assumes the characters of the adult - that is, becomes like the parent - depends on the interaction of two sets of factors: the properties of the germinal material itself, and the influences of substances and conditions external to the germinal material. Naturally, as K. W. von Nageli and Hertwig in particular have pointed out, there is no perpetual sharp contrast between the two sets of factors, for, as growth proceeds, the external is constantly becoming the internal; the results of influences, which were in one stage part of the environment, are in the next and subsequent stages part of the embryo. The differences between the exponents of evolution and epigenesis offer practical problems to be decided by experiment. Every phenomenon in development that is proved the direct result of epigenetic factors can be discounted from the complexity of the germinal mass. If, for instance, as H. Driesch and Hertwig have argued, much of the differentiation of cells and tissues is a function of locality and is due to the action of different external forces on similar material, then just so much burden is removed from what evolutionists have to explain. That much remains cannot be doubted. Two eggs similar in appearance develop side by side in the same sea-water, one becoming a mollusc, the other an Amphioxus. Hertwig would say that the slight differences in the original eggs would determine slight differences in metabolism and so forth, with the result that the segmentation of the two is slightly different; in the next stage the differences in metabolisms and other relations will be increased, and so on indefinitely. But in such cases c'est le premier pas qui cote, and the absolute cost in theoretical complexity of the germinal material can be estimated only after a prolonged course of experimental work in a field which is as yet hardly touched.

Empirical Study of Heredity

The fundamental basis of heredity is the separation of a mass from the parent (germ-plasm) which under certain conditions grows into an individual resembling the parent. The goal of the study of heredity will be reached only when all the phenomena can be referred to the nature of the germ-plasm and of its relations to the conditions under which it grows, but we have seen how far our knowledge is from any attempt at such references. In the meantime, the empirical facts, the actual relations of the characters in the offspring to the characters of the parents and ancestors, are being collected and grouped. In this inquiry it at once becomes obvious that every character found in a parent may or may not be present in the offspring. When any character occurs in both, it is generally spoken of as transmissible and of having been transmitted. In this broad sense there is no character that is not transmissible. In all kinds of reproduction, the characters of the class, family, genus, species, variety or race, and of the actual individual, are transmissible, the certainty with which any character appears being almost in direct proportion to its rank in the descending scale from order to individual. The transmitted characters are anatomical, down to the most minute detail; physiological, including such phenomena as diatheses, timbre of voice and even compound phenomena, such as gaucherie and peculiarity of handwriting; psychological; pathological; teratological, such as syndactylism and all kinds of individual variations. Either sex may transmit characters which in themselves are necessarily latent, as, for instance, a bull may transmit a good milking strain. In forms of asexual reproduction, such as division, budding, propagation by slips and so forth, every character of the parent may appear in the descendant, and apparently even in the descendants produced from that descendant by the ordinary sexual processes. reproduction by spore formation, in parthenogenesis and in ordinary sexual modes, where there is an embryological history between the separated mass and the new adult, it is necessary to attempt a difficult discrimination between acquired and innate characters.

Acquired Characters

Every character is the result of two sets of factors, those resident in the germinal material and those imposed from without. Our knowledge has taken us far beyond any such idea as the formation of a germinal material by the collection of particles from the adult organs and tissues (gemmules of C. Darwin). The inheritance of any character means the transmission in the germinal material of matter which, brought under the necessary external conditions, develops into the character of the parent. There is necessarily an acquired or epigenetic side to every character; but there is nothing in our knowledge of the actual processes to make necessary or even probable the supposition that the result of that factor in one generation appears in the germ-plasm of the subsequent generations, in those cases where an embryological development separates parent and offspring. The development of any normal, so-called " innate," character, such as, say, the assumption of the normal human shape and relations of the frontal bone, requires the co-operation of many factors external to the developing embryo, and the absence of abnormal distorting factors. When we say that such an innate character is transmitted, we mean only that the germ-plasm has such a constitution that, in the presence of the epigenetic factors and the absence of abnormal epigenetic factors, the bone will appear in due course and in due form. If an abnormal epigenetic factor be applied during development, whether to the embryo in utero, to the developing child, or in after life, abnormality of some kind will appear in the bone, and such an abnormality is a good type of what is spoken of as an " acquired " character. Naturally such a character varies with the external stimulus and the nature of the material to which the stimulus is applied, and probability and observation lead us to suppose that as the germ-plasm of the offspring is similar to that of the parent, being a mass separated from the parent, abnormal epigenetic influences would produce results on the offspring similar to those which they produced on the parent. Scrutiny of very many cases of the supposed inheritance of acquired characters shows that they may be explained in this fashion - that is to say, that they do not necessarily involve any feature different in kind from what we understand to occur in normal development. The effects of increased use or of disuse on organs or tissues, the reactions of living tissues to various external influences, to bacteria, to bacterial or other toxins, or to different conditions of respiration, nutrition and so forth, we know empirically to be different in the case of different individuals, and we may expect that when the living matter of a parent responds in a certain way to a certain external stimulus, the living matter of the descendant will respond to similar circumstances in a similar fashion. The operation of similar influences on similar material accounts for a large proportion of the facts. In the important case of the transmission of disease from parent to offspring it is plain that three sets of normal factors may operate, and other cases of transmission must be subjected to similar scrutiny: (I) a child may inherit the anatomical and physiological constitution of either parent, and with that a special liability of failure to resist the attacks of a wide-spread disease; (2) the actual bacteria may be contained in the ovum or possibly in the spermatozoon; (3) the toxins of the disease may have affected the ovum, or the spermatozoon, or through the placenta the growing embryo. Obviously in the first two cases the offspring cannot be said in any strict sense to have inherited the disease; in the last case, the theoretical nomenclature is more doubtful, but it is at least plain that no inexplicable factor is involved.

It is to be noticed, however, that " Lamarckians " and " NeoLamarckians " in their advocacy of an inheritance of " acquired characters " make a theoretical assumption of a different kind, which applies equally to " acquired " and to " innate " characters. They suppose that the result of the epigenetic factors is reflected on the germ-plasm in such a mode that in development the products would display the same or a similar character without the co-operation of the epigenetic factors on the new individual, or would display the result in an accentuated form if with the renewed co-operation of the external factors. Such an assumption presents its greatest theoretical difficulty if, with Weismann, we suppose the germ-plasm to be different in kind from the general soma-plasm, and its least theoretical difficulty if, with Hertwig, we suppose the essential matter of the reproductive cells to be similar in kind to the essential substance of the general body cells. But, apart from the differences between such theories, it supposes, in all cases where an embryological development lies between parent and descendant, the existence of a factor towards which our present knowledge of the actual processes gives us no assistance. The separated hereditary mass does not contain the organs of the adult; the Lamarckian factor would involve the translation of the characters of the adult back into the characters of the germ-cell in such a fashion that when the germ-cell developed these characters would be retranslated again into those which originally had been produced by co-operation between germ-plasm characters and epigenetic factors. In the present state of our knowledge the theoretical difficulty is not fatal to the Lamarckian supposition; it does no more than demand a much more careful scrutiny of the supposed cases. Such a scrutiny has been going on since Weismann first raised the difficulty, and the present result is that no known case has appeared which cannot be explained without the Lamarckian factor, and the vast majority of cases have been resolved without any difficulty into the ordinary events of which we have full experience. Taking the empirical data in detail, it would appear first that the effects of single mutilations are not inherited. The effects of long-continued mutilations are not inherited, but Darwin cites as a possible case the Mahommedans of Celebes, in whom the prepuce is very small. C. E. Brown-Sequard thought that he had shown in the case of guineapigs the inheritance of the results of nervous lesions, but analyses of his results leave the question extremely doubtful. The inheritance of the effects of use and disuse is not proved. The inheritance of the effects of changed conditions of life is quite uncertain. Nageli grew Alpine plants at Munich, but found that the change was produced at once and was not increased in a period of thirteen years. Alphonse de Candolle starved plants, with the result of producing better blooms, and found that seedlings from these were also above the average in luxuriance of blossom, but in these experiments the effects of selection during the starvation, and of direct effect on the nutrition of the seeds, were not eliminated. Such results are typical of the vast number of experiments and observations recorded. The empirical issue is doubtful, with a considerable balance against the supposed inheritance of acquired characters.

Empirical Study of Ef f ects of Amphimixis. - Inheritance is theoretically possible from each parent and from the ancestry of each. In considering the total effect it is becoming customary to distinguish between " blended " inheritance, where the offspring appears in respect of any character to be intermediate between the conditions in the parents; "prepotent " inheritance, where one parent is supposed to be more effective than the other in stamping the offspring (thus, for instance, Negroes, Jews and Chinese are stated to be prepotent in crosses); " exclusive" inheritance, where the character of the offspring is definitely that of one of the parents. Such a classification depends on the interpretation of the word character, and rests on no certain grounds. An apparently blended character or a prepotent character may on analysis turn out to be due to the inheritance of a certain proportion of minuter characters derived exclusively from either parent. H. de Vries and later on a number of other biologists have advanced the knowledge of heredity in crosses by carrying out further the experimental and theoretical work of Gregor Mendel (see Mendelism and Hybridism), and results of great practical importance to breeders have already been obtained. These experiments and results, however, appear to relate exclusively to sexual reproduction and almost entirely to the crossing of artificial varieties of animals and plants. So far as they go, they point strongly to the occurrence of alternate inheritance instead of blended inheritance in the case of artificial XIII. 12 varieties. On the other hand, in the case of natural varieties it appears that blended inheritance predominates. The difficulty of the interpretation of the word " character " still remains and the Mendelian interpretation cannot be dismissed with regard to the behaviour of any " character " in inheritance until it is certain that it is a unit and not a composite. There is another fundamental difficulty in making empirical comparisons between the characters of parents and offspring. At first sight it seems as if this mode of work were sufficiently direct and simple, and involved no more than a mere collection of sufficient data. The cranial index, or the height of a human being and of so many of his ancestors being given, it would seem easy to draw an inference as to whether or no in these cases brachycephaly or stature were inherited. But our modern conceptions of the individual and the race make it plain that the problems are not so simple. With regard to any character, the race type is not a particular measurement, but a curve of variations derived from statistics, and any individual with regard to the particular character may be referable to any point of the curve. A tall race like the modern Scots may contain individuals of any height within the human limits; a dolichocephalic race like the modern Spaniards may contain extremely round-headed individuals. What is meant by saying that one race is tall or the other dolichocephalic, is merely that if a sufficiently large number be chosen at random, the average height of the one race will be great, the cranial index of the other low. It follows that the study of variation must be associated with, or rather must precede, the empirical study of heredity, and we are beginning to know enough now to be certain that in both cases the results to be obtained are practically useless for the individual case, and of value only when large masses of statistics are collected. No doubt, when general conclusions have been established, they must be acted on for individual cases, but the results can be predicted not for the individual case, but only for the average of a mass of individual cases. It is impossible within the limits of this article to discuss the mathematical conceptions involved in the formation and applications of the method, but it is necessary to insist on the fact that these form an indispensable part of any valuable study of empirical data. One interesting conclusion, which may be called the " ancestral law " of heredity, with regard to any character, such as height, which appears to be a blend of the male and female characters, whether or no the apparent blend is really due to an inheritance of separate components, may be given from the work of F. Galton and K. Pearson. Each parent, on the average, contributes 4 or (0.5) 2, each grandparent t or (o. 5) 4, and each ancestor of nth place (0.5)". But this, like all other deductions, is applicable only to the mass of cases and not to any individual case.


An important result of quantitative work brings into prominence the steady tendency to maintain the type which appears to be one of the most important results of amphimixis. In the tenth generation a man has 1024 tenth grandparents, and is thus the product of an enormous population, the mean of which can hardly differ from that of the general population. Hence this heavy weight of mediocrity produces regression or progression to type. Thus in the case of height, a large number of cases being examined, it was found that fathers of a stature of 72 in. had sons with a mean stature of 70.8 in., a ,regression towards the normal stature of the race. Fathers with a stature of 66 in. had sons with a mean of 68.3 in., a progression towards the normal. It follows from this that where there is much in-and-in breeding the weight of mediocrity will be less, and the peculiarities of the breed will be accentuated.


Under this name a large number of ordinary cases of variation are included. A tall man with very short parents would probably be set down as a case of atavism if the existence of a very tall ancestor were known. He would, however, simply be a case of normal variation, the probability of which may be calculated from a table of stature variations in his race. Less marked cases set down to atavism may be instances merely of normal regression. Many cases of more abnormal structure, which are really due to abnormal embryonic or post-embryonic development, are set down to atavism, as, for instance, the cervical fistulae, which have been regarded as atavistic persistences of the gill clefts. It is also used to imply the reversion that takes place when domestic varieties are set free and when species or varieties are crossed (see Hybridism). Atavism is, in fact, a misleading name covering a number of very different phenomena.

Telegony is the name given to the supposed fact that offspring of a mother to one sire may inherit characters from a sire with which the mother had previously bred. Although breeders of stock have a strong belief in the existence of this, there are no certain facts to support it, the supposed cases being more readily explained as individual variations of the kind generally referred to as " atavism." None the less, two theoretical explanations have been suggested: (1) that spermatozoa, or portions of spermatozoa, from the first sire may occasionally survive within the mother for an abnormally long period; (2) that the body, or the reproductive cells of the mother, may be influenced by the growth of the embryo within her, so that she acquires something of the character of the sire. The first supposition has no direct evidence to support it, and is made highly improbable from the fact that a second impregnation is always necessary. Against the second supposition Pearson brings the cogent empirical evidence that the younger children of the same sire show no increased tendency to resemble him.

Telegony.) Authorities. - The following books contain a fair proportion of the new and old knowledge on this subject: W.Bateson, Materials for the Study of Variation (1894); Y. Delage, La Structure du protoplasma et les theories sur l'he're'dite (a very full discussion and list of literature); G. H. T. Eimer, Organic Evolution, Eng. trans. by Cunningham (1890); J. C. Ewart, The Penycuik Experiments (1899) F. Galton, Natural Inheritance (1887); O. Hertwig, Evolution or Epigenesis? Eng. trans. by P. C. Mitchell (1896); K. Pearson, The Grammar of Science (1900); Verworn, General Physiology, Eng. trans. (1899); A. Weismann, The Germ Plasm, Eng. trans. by Parker (1893). Lists of separate papers are given in the annual volumes of the Zoological Record under heading " General Subject." (P.C.M.)

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Simple English

Heredity is the passing of traits (characteristics) from parents to offspring. In biology, the study of heredity is called genetics. With most living things, heredity is analysed by breeding (making crosses), often in a laboratory. But with humans, heredity is studied in other ways. Family pedigrees, identical twins and DNA genome analysis all provide clues.

A trait which may be inherited is heritable.

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