Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/329

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325
GENETICS

Dr. Erwin Baur has found indications that self-sterility in Antirrhinum may be a Mendelian recessive, but whether this important suggestion be confirmed or not, the subject is worth the most minute study in all its bearings. The treatment of this problem well illustrates the proper scope of an applied science. The economic value of an exact determination of the empirical facts is obvious, but it should be the ambition of any one engaging in such a research to penetrate further. If we can grasp the rationale of self-sterility we open a new chapter in the study of life. It may contain the solution of the question, What is an individual?—no mere metaphysical conundrum, but a physiological problem of fundamental significance.

What, again, is the meaning of that wonderful increase in size or in "yield" which so often follows on a first cross? We are no longer content, as Victorian teleology was, to call it a "beneficial" effect and pass on. The fact has long been known and made use of in breeding stock for the meat market, and of late years the practise has also been introduced in raising table poultry. Mr. G. N. Collins,[1] of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, has recently proposed with much reason that it might be applied in the case of maize. The cross is easy to make on a commercial scale, and the gain in yield is striking, the increase ranging as high as 95 per cent. These figures sound extravagant, but from what I have frequently seen in peas and sweet peas, I am prepared for even greater increase. But what is this increase? How much of it is due to change in number of parts, how much to transference of differentiation or homœosis, as I have called it—leaf-buds becoming flowerbuds, for instance—and how much to actual increase in size of parts? To answer these questions would be to make an addition to human knowledge of incalculably great significance.

Then we have the further question, How and why does the increase disappear in subsequent generations? The very uniformity of the cross-breds between pure strains must be taken as an indication that the phenomenon is orderly. Its subsidence is probably orderly also. Shull has advocated the most natural view that heterozygosis is the exciting cause, and that with the gradual return to the homozygous state the effects pass off. I quite think this may be a part of the explanation, but I feel difficulties, which need not here be detailed, in accepting this as a complete account. Some of the effect we may probably also attribute to the combination of complementary factors; but whether heterozygosis, or complementary action, is at work, our experience of cross-breeding in general makes it practically certain that genetic factors of special classes only can have these properties, and no pains should be spared in identifying them. It is not impossible that such identifi-

  1. Bureau of Plant Industry, Bulletin No. 191, 1910.