Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
In Pursuit of the Gene

In Pursuit of the Gene

James Schwartz
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    In Pursuit of the Gene
    Book Description:

    Schwartz presents the history of genetics through the eyes of a dozen or so central players, beginning with Charles Darwin and ending with Nobel laureate Hermann J. Muller. This book offers readers the background they need to understand the latest findings in genetics and those still to come in the search for the genetic basis of complex diseases and traits.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-04333-6
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Viva Pangenesis
    (pp. 1-21)

    IN THE WINTER OF 1868, nine years after the publication of his On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin published his two-volume, nearly thousand-pageVariation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.Among other things,Variationwas a review of the multitude of observations concerning the phenomenon of inheritance. In fact, Variation was so crammed with detail that Darwin’s publisher elected to use two fonts, a large one for the most important material and a smaller one for fine points recommended only for the serious naturalist. In a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker on how to approach his new work,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Reversion to the Mean
    (pp. 23-43)

    IMMEDIATELY AFTER he’d completed “On Blood-Relationship,” Galton turned to eugenics and his passion for race improvement. Rather than risk his ideas for a human breeding program being lost in the backwater of a scientific journal, he chose to publish inFraser’s Magazine,a widely read literary magazine that published the likes of Thackeray and Carlyle. The article was simply entitled “Hereditary Improvement.”¹ “Whoever has spent a winter at the health-resorts of the South of France,” he began, “must have been appalled at witnessing the number of their fellow countrymen who are afflicted with wretched constitutions, while that of the sickly...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Galton’s Disciples
    (pp. 45-67)

    IN MARCH 1890, Galton was asked to review a zoology paper with a statistical slant for theProceedings of the Royal Society.The paper was a radical departure for its 30-year-old author, W. F. R. Weldon, who was smitten by Galton’s new book,Natural Inheritance.Up until that point, Weldon, like many zoologists of his generation, had believed it was his lifework to carry the torch of Darwinism forward by providing evidence for natural selection in the comparative anatomy and embryology of animals. But in Galton’s statistical methods he saw the possibility for a new approach to the study of...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Pangenes
    (pp. 69-85)

    AS A YOUNG MAN, the Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries did not seem likely to be the long-sought protégé whom Darwin hoped would rescue his theory of pangenesis from oblivion. De Vries’s doctoral work was in the relatively quiet backwater of plant physiology, far removed from the speculative world of pangenes and the debate over the inheritance of acquired traits. However, De Vries, whose father was the minister of justice under the king of the Netherlands and whose uncle was a professor of literature at the University of Leiden, was determined to make his mark in some way.

    Born in...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Mendel
    (pp. 87-103)

    FRANCIS GALTON AND GREGOR MENDEL were born in the same year, 1822, but the circumstances of their births could hardly have been more different. In the marriage of Galton’s father, Tertius, and Violetta Darwin, two of England’s leading families were joined together. Gregor Mendel’s father, Anton, who was born of peasant farmers in the small village of Heinzendorf in Austrian Silesia,¹ married Rosine Schwirtlich, the daughter of a gardener, also from Heinzendorf.

    Though he was forced to work three and a half days a week for his landlord, the industrious Anton managed to eke out a living as a tenant...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Rediscovery
    (pp. 105-117)

    DE VRIES’S FATHER DIED on March 4, 1900. It may have been the intense reminder of his own mortality, or the need to distract himself, or the premonition that others were about to publish and there was no time to lose, but whatever the cause, the death of his father marked the beginning of a period of frenetic activity. In the following two weeks he completed two long, detailed accounts of the basic principles that would come to be known as Mendelism, one in German and the other in French, and one short summary to be delivered to the French...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Mendel Wars
    (pp. 119-143)

    ALTHOUGH HE WORRIED about De Vries, who seemed to be spinning off in a strange new direction with hisOenothera,Bateson’s main concern was Weldon, who appeared to be increasingly determined to enter a full-fledged war against Mendelism. The first attack in the February 1902Biometrikawas followed by a short breather, but in November Weldon struck again.

    This time Weldon’s critique revolved around the Mendelian analysis of the inheritance of the hairy and smooth varieties of the flowering perennialLychnis,which was an ideal target for his criticism in part because both De Vries and Bateson had studied it....

  12. CHAPTER 8 Cell Biology
    (pp. 145-163)

    THE PRODUCT OF AN ASTONISHING clarity of thought and analytic penetration, Mendel’s abstract system of heredity had seemed entirely ungrounded to his contemporaries. In fact it would take four decades of intensive investigation of the cell, the nucleus, and its contents to discover that there were physical entities in the nucleus, the chromosomes, that behaved exactly as Mendel’s theory predicted they should. Unlike Mendel’s solitary effort, the development of an understanding of the material basis of heredity was a vast communal effort that drew on the insights and observations of many investigators in Europe and later in America.

    The new...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Sex Chromosomes
    (pp. 165-183)

    EDMUND WILSON HAD SOON appreciated that Sutton truly had understood why the yellow dog was yellow, but others were not so quick to sign on to the idea that chromosomes and Mendelian factors bore an intimate relationship or even that chromosomes played a decisive role in the transmission of the heredity. Ironically, among the most stubborn skeptics was Wilson’s close friend Thomas Hunt Morgan, who would, almost against his will, take the first crucial step in the experimental verification of the modern chromosome theory by proving that particular genes resided on the X chromosome. But it would be a long,...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Fly Room
    (pp. 185-207)

    IN A WELL-KNOWN and perhaps apocryphal story, Edmund Wilson is reputed to have once quipped that Morgan’s graduate students Alfred Sturtevant, Calvin Bridges, and Hermann Muller were his three greatest discoveries.¹ Although there are two radically different accounts of the atmosphere and dynamics of Morgan’s lab at Columbia, there is nearly universal agreement on the view that it was these three young men working together in Morgan’s lab in the years between 1912 and 1915 (when Muller left Columbia to take a job at the recently formed Rice Institute in Houston) who were responsible for the integration of Mendelism and...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Oenothera Reconsidered
    (pp. 209-219)

    AFTER THREE YEARS in the lab of Thomas Hunt Morgan, Muller was dying to get away. In 1915, even before he’d officially been granted a degree, he leapt at the opportunity to join Julian Huxley (grandson of Darwin’s friend and ally Thomas Huxley) in the biology department of the newly created Rice Institute in Houston. Sharing a passion for Darwin and eugenics, the high-strung, 28-year-old, Oxford-educated Julian Huxley and Muller were a natural pair, and it was a great disappointment to Muller when, a year later, Huxley decided that it was his duty to return to England and join the...

  16. CHAPTER 12 X-Rays
    (pp. 221-241)

    WITH THE RESOLUTION of the beaded and truncate cases, the last serious doubts about the universality of Mendelism and the chromosome theory were extinguished. However, genetics, as William Bateson had defined the word in 1905, was the study of two central topics, heredity and variation, and while the problem of inheritance was more or less solved, the study of variation had barely progressed at all in fifty years. Furthermore, Muller had succeeded in discrediting De Vries’s mutation theory, which had been the only promising lead. But having cleared the field, Muller was now free to make a new mutation theory....

  17. CHAPTER 13 Triumph of the Modern Gene
    (pp. 243-276)

    WHILE THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD WAS STILL REELING from the news that X-rays generated mutations at undreamed of rates, Muller had already moved on. For he had quickly realized that in addition to generating localized changes in individual genes at unprecedented rates, X-rays caused large-scale rearrangements of blocks of genes composing whole sections of chromosomes.¹ In a matter of months he had found flies containing deletions and inversions, and most interesting of all, in December 1926 he found a case in which a group of genes formerly associated with the X chromosome had become linked to the third chromosome. Hoping to...

    (pp. 277-290)

    IN FEBRUARY 1944, Oswald Avery and two colleagues, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, published a brilliant and penetrating paper showing that it was possible to transform a nonvirulent strain of the pneumococci bacterium into a virulent form by treating it with a purified extract of nucleic acid extracted from virulent cells. Avery was reluctant to declare that DNA, as the deoxyribose nucleic acid would soon be known, was the transformative molecule, fearing that his highly purified extract might still contain trace amounts of protein, and it would be the protein that turned out to be the active agent. Although he...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 293-348)
    (pp. 349-352)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 353-370)