There was a time when advocating the inheritance of acquired characteristics would get you fired from your job in any university biology department. Today, it seems vindicated, at least in some small measure. The importance of this is staggering, but not developed in the article below. Basically it means, "genes" can be altered by the environment. They are not immutable. And this therefore makes the whole calculus of genetic determinism subject to environmental uncertainties.. or certainties. It also opens up the door to non-genetic mechanisms of heredity, such as bioenergetic phenomenon. Paul Kammerer was an early experimenter in this area, and one of the teachers of Wilhelm Reich at the University of Vienna. He was accused of fraud, but rejected the accusations which created an immense scandal, and committed suicide. The writer Arthur Koestler wrote an excellent but nearly-forgotten book on this subject years ago — "The Case of the Midwife Toad" — which gathers evidence that it was possibly one of Kammerer’s admiring students who did so, misguided that it would help reinforce his already abundant evidence on this subject. Today there is indeed all kinds of laboratory evidence that the genes and DNA are not perpetuated in splendid isolation within their protective wrappers of the cell nucleus, but that they jump around, copy from messenger RNA, and otherwise react to environmental changes with patterned development. It gets to the point where the older strictly Darwinian natural selection, with genetic changes only by random mutations triggered by unpredictable events like cosmic rays and such, has been largely abandoned except in textbook definitions.
Kammerer’s own book "The Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics" and that of Koestler, should be required reading for biology students, along with Wilhelm Reich, Louis Kervran, Robert O. Becker, Fritz Popp, Rupert Sheldrake, Frank Brown, Harold Burr, Bjorn Nordenstrom,and other radical naturalists. Hello to them, goodbye to Watson and Crick. J.D.
September 3, 2009
Toad “Fraud” May Have Been Ahead of His Time
Before Charles Darwin, there was Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the French naturalist who proposed that an organism could pass to its offspring characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime. The classic example is the idea that giraffes got their long necks by gradually stretching them over successive generations in response to the need to reach food high in the trees. Darwin’s theory-which held, in contrast, that giraffes with the longest necks were more likely to survive and reproduce-eventually won out, though Lamarckism persisted well into the 20th century (particularly in the Soviet Union, where it was revived as Lysenkoism).
One proponent of Lamarckism in the 1920s was Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer, who undertook a series of experiments on amphibians, including the midwife toad. These toads are special because they copulate on land and then the male keeps the eggs out of the water by carrying them around, on land, stuck to his own legs.
By placing the toads in an arid, hot environment, Kammerer induced the toads to mate in the water. Under these conditions, the toads simply deposited the eggs into the water-the male did not carry them-and only a few hatched into tadpoles. But later generations who grew up under normal conditions preferred to copulate in the water, and some males developed a trait called “nuptial pads” on their forelimbs (black spots that are used for gripping females and are common on water-dwelling toads). Kammerer believed that this was evidence that Larmarckian evolution was real.
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