Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/553

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continue the valuable labors of best breeders, and the most gifted workers with plants and animals have been unable to impart to others the equipment with which they entered into their work. Their successors have been drawn from such men as possessed similar natural endowments and who happened to be so placed as to be encouraged to utilize their qualifications in the betterment of plants or animals, and plants and animals comprise all the objects and instruments of the agriculturist.

The Possibilities of Better Breeding

In our present solicitous and mercenary interest in agriculture, it is not needful to explain the desirability of in any way adding to the value and amount of the plant and animal products now coming from our farms. One paragraph from Mr. Burbank will suffice:

It would not be difficult for one man to breed a new rye, wheat, barley, oats or rice, which would produce one grain more to each head, or a corn which would produce an extra kernel to each ear, another potato to each plant, or an apple, plum, orange or nut to each tree. What would be the result? In five staples, only, in the United States alone, the inexhaustible forces of nature would produce annually, without effort and without cost, 5,200,000 extra bushels of corn, 15,000,000 extra bushels of wheat, 20,000,000 extra bushels of oats, 1,500,000 extra bushels of barley and 21,000,000 extra bushels of potatoes.

Even more striking increases would be the result of an increase of one per cent, in the amount of human food that our animals now yield from the plants produced for them.

The past ten years have greatly changed the relation of biology to agriculture. One cause of that change was the growing need of special varieties of animals, and more particularly of plants, with such new combinations of characters as would especially adapt them to the economic needs of localities of peculiar conditions. Another factor was the great desirability of putting the subject of breeding into a more definite and scientific and teachable form than it had previously had. But the chief cause of the new era, dating from 1900, was the announcement of the wonderful truth embodied in what we know as Mendel's law.

Mendel's Law and the Influence of its Discovery

Mendel had finished his research and published his very striking results in 1860, when the world was too much engrossed with the Darwinian idea to take any serious interest in data derived from a few crops of sweet peas grown in a cloister yard by an Austrian monk.

In 1900, de Vries, of Amsterdam, and Correns, in France, working independently of each other and in ignorance of Mendel's paper, came to the same conclusion as had the pious monk of thirty-five years before, who, in thus having his name associated with his rediscovered findings, was more fortunate than some other scientists who have lived before their time.