Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/17

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THE MECHANISTIC CONCEPTION OF LIFE

special constituent of the nucleus, the chromosomes. The proof for this was given by facts found along the lines of Mendelian investigations. The essential law of Mendel, the law of segregation, can in its simplest form be expressed in the following way. If we cross two forms which differ in only one character every hybrid resulting from this union forms two kinds of sex-cells in equal numbers; two kinds of eggs if it is a female, two kinds of spermatozoa if it is a male. The one kind corresponds to the pure paternal, the other to the pure maternal type. The investigation of the structure and behavior of the nucleus showed that the possibility for such a segregation of the sex-cells in a hybrid can easily be recognized during a given stage in the formation of the sex-cells, if the assumption is made that the chromosomes are the bearers of the paternal characters. The proof for the correctness of this view was furnished through the investigation of the heredity of those qualities which occur mainly in one sex; e. g., color blindness which occurs preeminently in the male members of a family.

Nine years ago McClung published a paper which solved the problem of sex determination, at least in its essential feature. Each animal has a definite number of chromosomes in its cell nucleus. Henking had found that in a certain form of insects (Pyrrhocoris) two kinds of spermatozoa exist which differ in the fact that the one possesses a nucleolus while the other does not. Montgomery afterwards showed that Henking's nucleolus was an accessory chromosome. McClung first expressed the idea that this accessory chromosome was connected with the determination of sex. Considering the importance of this idea we may render it in his own words:

A most significant fact, and one upon which almost all investigators are united in opinion, is that the element is apportioned to but one half of the spermatozoa. Assuming it to be true that the chromatin is the important part of the cell in the matter of heredity, then it follows that we have two kinds of spermatozoa that differ from each other in a vital matter. We expect, therefore, to find in the offspring two sorts of individuals in approximately equal numbers, under normal conditions, that exhibit marked differences in structure. A careful consideration will suggest that nothing but sexual characters thus divides the members of a species into two well-defined groups, and we are logically forced to the conclusion that the peculiar chromosome has some bearing upon the arrangement.

I must here also point out a fact that does not seem to have the recognition it deserves; viz., that if there is a cross division of the chromosomes in the maturation mitoses, there must be two kinds of spermatozoa regardless of the presence of the accessory chromosome. It is thus possible that even in the absence of any specialized element a preponderant maleness would attach to one half of the spermatozoa, due to the "qualitative division of the tetrads."

The researches of the following years, especially the brilliant work of E. B. Wilson, Miss Stevens, T. H. Morgan and others, have amply confirmed the correctness of this ingenious idea and cleared up the problem of sex determination in its main features.