The history of genetics is generally held to have started with the work of an Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel. Gregor Mendel is known as the father of genetics. His work on pea plants, published in 1866, described what came to be known as Mendelian Inheritance. In the centuries before—and for several decades after—Mendel's work, a wide variety of theories of heredity proliferated (see below). 1900 marked the "rediscovery of Mendel" by Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns and Erich von Tschermak, and by 1915 the basic principles of Mendelian genetics had been applied to a wide variety of organisms—most notably the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Led by Thomas Hunt Morgan and his fellow "drosophilists", geneticists developed the Mendelian-chromosome theory of heredity, which was widely accepted by 1925. Alongside experimental work, mathematicians developed the statistical framework of population genetics, bring genetical explanations into the study of evolution.
With the basic patterns of genetic inheritance established, many biologists turned to investigations of the physical nature of the gene. In the 1940s and early 1950s, experiments pointed to DNA as the portion of chromosomes (and perhaps other nucleoproteins) that held genes. A focus on new model organisms such as viruses and bacteria, along with the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA in 1953, marked the transition to the era of molecular genetics. In the following years, chemists developed techniques for sequencing both nucleic acids and proteins, while others worked out the relationship between the two forms of biological molecules: the genetic code. The regulation of gene expression became a central issue in the 1960s; by the 1970s gene expression could be controlled and manipulated through genetic engineering. In the last decades of the 20th century, many biologists focused on large-scale genetics projects, sequencing entire genomes.
Pre-Mendelian ideas on heredity
The most influential early theories of heredity were that of Hippocrates and Aristotle. Hippocrates' theory (possibly based on the teachings of Anaxagoras) was similar to Darwin's later ideas on pangenesis, involving heredity material that collects from throughout the body. Aristotle suggested instead that the (nonphysical) form-giving principle of an organism was transmitted through semen (which he considered to be a purified form of blood) and the mother's menstrual blood, which interacted in the womb to direct an organism's early development. For both Hippocrates and Aristotle—and nearly all Western scholars through to the late 19th century—the inheritance of acquired characters was a supposedly well-established fact that any adequate theory of heredity had to explain. At the same time, individual species were taken to have a fixed essence; such inherited changes were merely superficial.
In the 9th century CE, 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. 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."
In 1000 CE, 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.
Plant systematics and hybridization
In the 18th century, with increased knowledge of plant and animal diversity and the accompanying increased focus on taxonomy, new ideas about heredity began to appear. Linnaeus and others (among them Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter, Carl Friedrich von Gärtner, and Charles Naudin) conducted extensive experiments with hybridization, especially species hybrids. Species hybridizers described a wide variety of inheritance phenomena, include hybrid sterility and the high variability of back-crosses.
Plant breeders were also developing an array of stable varieties in many important plant species. In the early 19th century, Augustin Sageret established the concept of dominance, recognizing that when some plant varieties are crossed, certain characters (present in one parent) usually appear in the offspring; he also found that some ancestral characters found in neither parent may appear in offspring. However, plant breeders made little attempt to establish a theoretical foundation for their work or to share their knowledge with current work of physiology.
In breeding experiments between 1856 and 1865, Gregor Mendel first traced inheritance patterns of certain traits in pea plants and showed that they obeyed simple statistical rules. Although not all features show these patterns of Mendelian inheritance, his work acted as a proof that application of statistics to inheritance could be highly useful. Since that time many more complex forms of inheritance have been demonstrated.
From his statistical analysis Mendel defined a concept that he described as an allele, which was the fundamental unit of heredity. The term allele as Mendel used it is nearly synonymous with the term gene, and now means a specific variant of a particular gene.
Mendel's work was published in 1866 as "Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden" (Experiments on Plant Hybridization) in the Verhandlungen des Naturforschenden Vereins zu Brünn (Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn), following two lectures he gave on the work in early 1865.
Mendel's work was published in a relatively obscure scientific journal, and it was not given any attention in the scientific community. Instead, discussions about modes of heredity were galvanized by Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, in which mechanisms of non-Lamarckian heredity seemed to be required. Darwin's own theory of heredity, pangenesis, did not meet with any large degree of acceptance. A more mathematical version of pangenesis, one which dropped much of Darwin's Lamarckian holdovers, was developed as the "biometrical" school of heredity by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton. Under Galton and his successor Karl Pearson, the biometrical school attempted to build statistical models for heredity and evolution, with some limited but real success, though the exact methods of heredity were unknown and largely unquestioned.
The significance of Mendel's work was not understood until early in the twentieth century, after his death, when his research was re-discovered by other scientists working on similar problems. Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns and Erich von Tschermak
There was then a feud between Bateson and Pearson over the hereditary mechanism. Fisher solved this in The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance
1865 Gregor Mendel's paper, Experiments on Plant Hybridization
1944 Oswald Theodore Avery, Colin McLeod and Maclyn McCarty isolate DNA as the genetic material (at that time called transforming principle)
1972, Walter Fiers and his team at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the University of Ghent (Ghent, Belgium) were the first to determine the sequence of a gene: the gene for bacteriophage MS2 coat protein.
* List of sequenced eukaryotic genomes
* Olby's "Mendel, Mendelism, and Genetics," at MendelWeb
* Elof Axel Carlson, Mendel's Legacy: The Origin of Classical Genetics (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2004.) ISBN 0-87969-675-3
1. ^ Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought, pp 635-640
Although the conference was titled "International Conference on Hybridisation and Plant Breeding", Wilks changed the title for publication as a result of Bateson's speech.
12. ^ Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty (1944). "Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types: Induction of Transformation by a Desoxyribonucleic Acid Fraction Isolated from Pneumococcus Type III". Journal of Experimental Medicine 79 (1): 137–58. doi:10.1084/jem.79.2.137. 35th anniversary reprint available
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