Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mendel, Bateson, and Genetics

I love antique books, and this past year I decided to collect a few notable science books from the nineteenth century. Over these past several weeks, I've written about them on this blog, teaching myself many new things in the process.

While I was reading about Charles Darwin last fall, I had in the back of my mind the fact that Darwin did not have the benefit of Gregor Mendel's principles of inheritance, for the Austrian friar's 1865 and 1866 papers on the subject were little known. Finally in 1900, nearly twenty years after Darwin's death, Mendel's work began to be appropriated by the scientists Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak, as well as William Bateson, an eager promoter of Mendel's ideas, and also scientists like J. B.S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, and Ronald Fisher.

I found a significant book online, William Bateson's Mendel's Principles of Heredity (Cambridge University Press, 1909). Although the word "gene" (from the Greek genos, "origin") already existed, Bateson coined the term "genetics." This site, , explains the significance of Bateson (1861-1926) and his work.

"At the turn of the twentieth century, William Bateson studied organismal variation and heredity of traits within the framework of evolutionary theory in England. Bateson applied Gregor Mendel's work to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and coined the term genetics for a new biological discipline. By studying variation and advocating Mendelian genetics, Bateson furthered the field of genetics, encouraged the use of experimental methodology to study heredity, and contributed to later theories of genetic inheritance." Studying discontinuous variation within species, he was criticized by scientists, especially those in biometry, who were using statistical methods to explain Darwin's evolutionary theories. Working with his sister Anna and another woman botanist, Edith Rebecca Saunders, he continued to experiment. But in 1900, he and Saunders discovered Mendel's 1866 publication about pea inheritance. "Bateson adopted Mendel's work, and he advocated for others to do so. The majority of Bateson and Saunders's results from flowering plant crosses fit Mendel's laws of inheritance. In 1902 Bateson published Mendel's Principles of Heredity..."

Please read the whole article. The author continues that, thanks to Bateson, Mendel's theories were publicized and accepted among scientists. Bateson's book became a landmark study in the history of heredity theory and the eventual synthesis of genetics and evolutionary biology.

A colleague who is an actual historian of science recommends this book for more on this whole subject:

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