Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/June 1911/The Relation of Biology to Agriculture
|THE RELATION OF BIOLOGY TO AGRICULTURE|
By Professor F. R. MARSHALL
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
UNTIL a few months ago Americans were inclined to express surprise at the paternalistic measures for fostering agriculture as adopted by other countries. Now, the necessity of ensuring adequate food supplies has made us willing to assume the same encouraging attitude toward agriculture as we have always held toward our manufacturing enterprises.
Last year we seemed broad-minded and liberal in what we were doing for the promotion of agriculture, and our motives were really largely philanthropic. We knew that the bulk of our population fared more sumptuously, if not more wisely, than the inhabitants of other nations, but it was maintained that the American laborer was the superior of the European, and his standard of living was, and must continue to be, a higher one. Now we would foster agriculture because we see our dependence upon that industry. The disposition to foster agriculture is evidenced by such actions as the legislatures' requesting the agricultural colleges to establish correspondence courses.
Although the meat boycott was heard of only in its organization, even that move showed plainly that either the standard of living or our agriculture must change. Doubtless both will be greatly modified.
It is not necessary to argue the urgent and immediate need of a more intelligent and scientific agriculture. Present prices are already inciting greater study, as well as adding to the numbers of farmers. The apparently diseased condition over which we have temporarily disturbed ourselves really exhibits nothing that can be readily treated except our tastes, and for those the treatment must be mainly psychological. That remedy is already at work, and the same conditions have also set at work the other remedy, of a more studied production.
It may be philanthropy, but it is also good economic policy, to do everything possible to distribute and add to our knowledge of scientific agricultural principles. The problem is to secure the intelligent application of what we have, but no less to increase our knowledge of principles and of their possible economic value.
The further we are removed from the unsettled times of 1862, the more clearly can we appreciate the wisdom of Justin Morrill in framing the law that founded our present agricultural teaching. The Hatch Act of 1887, by which our experiment stations were brought into existence, is of similar moment. Without the past operation of these two forces to ameliorate our present condition, the situation must have been much more serious.
Any discussion of the relation of any science to agriculture must center around these two institutions — the agricultural college and ex- periment station. The introduction into farming of improved business methods may be aided by these institutions, but their chief work has been, and will be, the interpretation of science to agriculture. Better business methods are being employed as the more scientific practises add to the attractiveness and certainty of the farmer's occupation.
A survey of the past is strongly suggestive of the idea that the greatest service of biology to agriculture has yet to be performed.
How Other Sciences have Influenced Agriculture
The indebtedness of agriculture to chemistry can hardly be esti- mated. It is only through the work of the chemist that we have accu- mulated our information regarding the elements of fertility and the needs of the various crops and their relation to each other and to dif- ferent soils. No farmer reads the statement of analysis upon the fer- tilizer sack without thereby receiving immediate aid in the chemistry of his farming, and the greatest aid was given through the information that enabled him to make an intelligent choice of the fertilizer to be used.
To the bacteriologist we owe our understanding of the nature and successful cultivation of leguminous plants. The science of dairying, the handling of milk and manufacturing of milk products, is alike indebted to chemistry and bacteriology.
The physiologist has joined the chemist to qualify the farmer to convert his crops into animal products with the greatest economy, and new suggestive results of laborious investigation are constantly being added.
In biology, we find that horticulture is largely based upon botany. In fact, at the time the land-grant colleges were established, if we ex- cept perhaps the chemist, the botanists were the only scientists prepared to teach anything of direct value to agriculture. The knowledge of the origin and relation of varieties and their distribution and adaptability has enabled horticulture to become the most truly scientific of all branches of agriculture.
The service rendered in the study of weeds and devising methods of controlling them has been an important one in making for the fullest and best use of the resources in the soil. Botanists and horticulturists have also introduced many foreign plants of great value in the garden and in the field. As an example of this, we have the alfalfa plant, more recent importations of which seem likely to bring into use some western sections until now regarded as practically waste.
The main, if not the only direct service of zoology has been given through the subject of entomology. Although some of the most dangerous enemies of plants are still beyond control, such as the boll weevil, yet their habits are understood and the crops on which they prey can still be grown with only a fraction of the loss that would be sustained had the habits and life history of such pests not been made known. Other pests have either been eradicated or rendered so nearly controllable as to permit of our safely disturbing the balance of nature by devoting large areas to special crops of such plants as are not encouraged in the natural state.
The Zoologists' Inability to Aid Breeders
We should naturally expect zoology to throw considerable light upon the laws of heredity and upon possible methods of so modifying forms and functions of our animals as to give us more intelligent control of those great factors in agriculture. It is true that a most wonderful improvement of all classes of farm animals has been effected; from a few unpromising native stocks, numerous and distinct varieties have been evolved, each one having distinctive characters of value, either in special adaptability to specific conditions and systems of agriculture, or in capacity to yield a superior product, or, as is true of many breeds, combining some degree of excellence in both respects.
In this fascinating and valuable work, however, there has been little or nothing that could properly be called scientific, unless we should regard as science an accumulation of facts regarding occurrences the explanations of which have not been attempted by the breeders and not altogether successfully undertaken, as yet, by the zoologists.
The fact that zoology has given so little that could be utilized by the breeder is no reflection upon the zoologists. Their problem has been a difficult one, and until a science assumes a form of some definiteness, it is too early to expect any of its principles to be followed out into their operation in economic affairs, particularly when, as in zoology, supposed facts are being dethroned and the evolution of the science seems hardly begun.
The discoverer of important principles can not be expected to also assume the duty of interpreting his science to practise. He works for the acquisition of knowledge and the understanding of natural law in its broadest relations and is seldom qualified to give a scientific aspect to productive labors, even if willing to attempt such a task.
It can truthfully be stated that biology, as one of the sciences, is the newest and least definite of them all, unless we except, perhaps, psychology. This is not because great minds have not been occupied with it, for what other study has engaged such illustrious and widely-known men as Darwin and Wallace and Spencer and Galton and Huxley of England, and such as Lamarck in France and Weismann in Germany?
This retarded development has no doubt been largely due to the fact that biology requires all the other sciences as its servants, and it is only as chemistry and botany and physics and geology have progressed that the biologist has been able to find satisfactory data and material for his attempts to reveal the nature and origin of the various forms of life.
It is true that Darwin studied very closely the work of British stock breeders and referred largely to their work in his subsequent writings to explain and illustrate his theory of the origin of species through natural selection. The principal part of the constructive work of British stock breeders, however, had been done in the first half of last century, and the indebtedness of stock breeding to Darwin was by no means so considerable as the service that industry afforded to the naturalists of the time and to Darwin in particular.
It was not until 1859 that the "Origin of Species" was printed. Remembering, then, the revolutionizing aspect of the first reasonable explanations of the development of the forms of life, and the difficulties opposed to the general acceptance of natural selection as the main evolutionary factor, it is not very surprising that the economic value of such truth has received scant attention.
To interpret a science to an industry requires some individuals interested and qualified in both fields. If botany and zoology, in former years, attracted any men really conversant with agriculture, their full endowments have been devoted to some of the numerous engrossing and fascinating questions of pure science. So we find that until ten years ago it could scarcely be said that any scientific students of heredity were seriously attempting to serve agriculture.
The men who had done so much in the molding of animal form could not be called scientific; complete strangers to any conception of the physical basis of heredity they worked solely as directed by their own experience and such meager teachings as were obtainable from their predecessors. What little constructive work had been accomplished in the plant kingdom was effected by self-taught men of unusual natural endowments for the work.
It would be a serious mistake to lose sight of the fact that wonderful improvements had been effected by development and improvement of numerous varieties of both plants and animals long before any physiological explanation of heredity was attempted. It is quite clear, however, that the principles underlying the achievements of those earlier self-taught master breeders were very imperfectly understood as principles; indeed, it did not seem to them that a satisfactory explanation of their experiences could ever be forthcoming. Breeding was not an art based upon science, but was purely an artistic calling. This being true, it has been impossible to prepare younger men to 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.
The Mendelian law is concerned with the dominance and recessiveness of plant and animal characters. It was clearly shown by Mendel, and later by Correns and de Vries, that, given a single plant with a character we wish to perpetuate, among a hundred of that individual's grandchildren, there can be secured twenty-five that will be counterparts of their unusual grandparent, so far as the one special character is concerned. This percentage is obtained by mating the prodigy with ordinary stock and excluding the resultant hybrids from being fertilized by any but other produce of the same original unusual individual. Another twenty-five per cent, will be equally as capable of reproducing the opposite character of the individual from which they sprang. The remaining fifty per cent, appear true to the type of their hybrid parents, but, like them, reveal their actual identity when their offspring follow the same unusual proportions.
The fact that such proportions can be relied upon added a new feeling of certainty and greatly encouraged attempts to perpetuate and multiply various features of plants. Of course, in the first generation, the prized character of the parent may be recessive or prevented from asserting itself by the more powerful opposite, and, until it was known that one-fourth of the next generation might return to the character in question, many attempts to breed in new features were abandoned after the apparent failure of the first cross. Instances of the operation of the same law were found in the animal kingdom.
Castle found that in guinea-pigs the extra length of hair was dominant over short hair which reappeared in Mendelian proportions in the succeeding generation. Albinism and smoothness of coat were also found to be inherited as recessive Mendelian characters. But of even greater interest than these unusual proportions is the exhibition of inheritance by unit characters. When we see length of hair being inherited independently of its color, and each of these independent of arrangement as to roughness or smoothness, we begin to realize the vast number of unit characters that go to make up an organism.
The unusual proportions, occurring so nearly accurately in large numbers, were highly interesting to the biologists and very suggestive to many persons not previously interested either in botany or zoology.
Mendel's law was of the greatest importance in pure science because any explanation of the fixed proportions must be based upon the nature of the gametes, and much new theory and research was undertaken to ascertain the basis of such seeming unnatural exactness of proportion.
If we assume that the gametes produced by hybrid individuals are pure to one or the other of the parental characters, the explanation of the Mendelian proportions is comparatively simple. Such assumption, however, is not justifiable in the light of our present knowledge. A satisfactory explanation of the basis of this law will be possible only after the discovery of several new facts regarding the behavior and identity of the component parts of the reproductive cells. This same line of research has also been suggested by the more recent development of our knowledge regarding the accessory chromosome. Such research demands the use of the most perfected instruments and the exercise of the finest technique. It requires an impartial and truly scientific mind, and it is, therefore, very gratifying to find that most of the facts being added to our knowledge concerning hereditary processes in these connections are furnished by American investigators.
The Optimism of 1900
Within a very few years, after 1900, numerous investigators found the Mendelian law to be operative for a wide variety of characters and in many species of plants. Evidence was also forthcoming to show that the same was true of some characters of farm animals.
The air was filled with expectancy, for, since so many things were known to be inherited by Mendelian proportions, it was quite generally assumed that all inheritance was of the same kind. Breeding was no longer an art, nor even a science, but a simple application of mathematics. True, our knowledge of the modus operandi of all these occurrences was incomplete, but Mendel's law appeared to be the key to all facts of inheritance, and nothing of moment could be unknown for more than a few months. Such was the thought of many enthusiastic persons in 1902 and 1903. It seemed as though the great door was soon to be unlocked and reveal to us the truth that should explain all inheritance and all life, bringing a new era in biology and in the many vital studies of man with which biology is so intimately connected.
But even should the scientific explanation of Mendel's law be slightly delayed, there was no reason for the breeder of plants and animals to remain under the old régime; so it seemed to many careful and earnest workers in agricultural lines. The fact that the derivation of the formula was obscure was no hindrance to its utility.
One outcome of the new thought was the organization of the American Breeders' Association. The membership of this association comprised botanists, zoologists, florists, seedsmen, growers of seed com and other cereals, and also breeders of all classes of farm animals. The time was ripe for such an organization. It was the idea of some of the founders that the spread of the new science would revolutionize breeding practise.
At the second annual meeting of the American Breeders' Association, held in 1905, there were presented such papers as these: "Recent Discoveries in Heredity and their Bearing on Animal Breeding."
This paper was presented by Dr. Castle, of Harvard, a most capable zoologist, though less acquainted than might be wished with commercial breeding.
Another paper was entitled, "Mendel's Law in Relation to Animal Breeding," and a third, "Heredity in the Light of Recent Investigations."
In the 1907 session of the same body, Mr. Spillman, of the Department of Agriculture, in a paper entitled, "The Chromosome in the Transmission of Hereditary Characters," said: "I believe that it will finally be possible to work out the complete relation so that we can get a full understanding of the behavior of hereditary characters and thus breed for improved forms with almost as much certainty as the chemist mixes solutions in order to produce a desired compound." At the same time and place. Dr. Davenport, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, used these words: "Indeed, the fact that the enzymes of the germ cells, and particularly of the egg, determine hereditary characters, points the way to the modification of hereditary qualities and to the production of this or that character at will."
The expectations of such sanguine persons have not been realized. Considerable progress has been made, but it has been and bids fair to be more in the nature of a steady march than of a sudden flight.
Those who were most hopeful of the sufficiency of Mendelism overlooked three things: that we are not able to originate any specific character desired; that not all characters are transmitted in accordance with the Mendelian formula; and that, except for purposes of research, it is seldom practicable to breed for but one single or unit character at a time. Approved animal form embraces probably innumerable unit characters. So far, the only definitely known Mendelian unit characters in large animals are superficial ones, such as coat characters, which are of no direct commercial importance. The relation of the vital body characters is not understood and no capacity for useful functions has been shown to be a unit character. Even with the low number of three or four useful unit characters known to be Mendelian, the chance of their being combined in a single individual is so small as to be of no interest to a practical breeder.
The difficulties of perpetuating a character according to Mendel's law are much less serious with plants than with animals. Knowing that there is strong probability of a unit character of a plant's being Mendelian, the certainty regarding the rate at which it may be propagated adds greatly to the attractiveness of plant breeding and greatly stimulates the search for and endeavor to produce valuable variations.
The Breeders and Mendel's Law
Mendelism has, therefore, given considerable immediate aid to economic plant breeding. It has served to interest seed growers in biology —rendering their work more intelligent and more scientific and consequently much more valuable. It has also drawn the attention of scientific workers to economic questions, and encouraged research, planned with some thought for economic interests and yet highly scientific.
Animal breeding has been influenced by Mendelism, chiefly through indirect means. The practical obstacles to rearing of large numbers of animals for the chance of finding some new thing has compelled animal breeders to go at a much slower pace than that set by the plant breeders. The fact that some characters of minor practical value have been shown to be inherited in definite proportions has stimulated an interest and study in other aspects of heredity that explains otherwise mysterious occurrences and dissipates common unscientific ideas that have done much to hinder real progress. Ten years ago when the possibilities of breeding up our farm crops were becoming apparent the accomplishments of breeders of animals were the incentive and patterns for those working with plants. To-day the situation is reversed, and work with plants is seen to be beset with fewer practical difficulties and productive of much earlier returns than equally skillful work in the animal kingdom.
The Question of Transmission of Results of Environment of no Interest to Breeders
Breeders and biologists are still far from unanimous in their opinions of the relation of environment to heredity. This fact is no serious hindrance to the breeder's work, however, except in so far as the heat and confusion which is the main product of discussions of the actual role of environment, require energy that could be more profitably utilized in some other way. Although a settlement of the question might permit a clearer conception of heredity and facilitate scientific inquiry, it could call for no considerable change in breeding practise. The majority of animal breeders firmly believe that the effects of environment are transmitted. Mr. Burbank also believes the same of plants; but neither Mr. Burbank nor any animal breeder has attempted a physiological explanation of such claimed occurrences. It is immaterial whether we emphasize environment or selection as the chief factor in the production and maintenance of variations. Both are essential, and to consider the changes in our domestic animals to be the outcome of artificial selection, aided and facilitated by adjusted environments, is quite as satisfying from the breeder's standpoint as ascribing first place to environment. Reliance upon selection, however, has the present advantage of being more nearly explained physiologically than is the other view.
Breeders of to-day, especially plant breeders, recognize more clearly than formerly the dependence of improvement upon the ability to detect and to judge the value of departures from the common types of our commercial plants. This means a greater attention to the study of form and characteristics as a basis of and preparation for work along breeding lines and suggests the need of qualifications of an artistic nature. It was because of natural love for animals and unusual insight into animal life and form that a comparatively few men have been able to establish more than threescore breeds of animals of highest efficiency in the performance of a variety of functions through which the human race is served.
The Principle Involved in New Plant and Animal Creations
It is not necessary to enumerate the accomplishments of Mr, Burbank. Through the magazines the public has already been given an adequate if not an exaggerated account of the achievements of that wonderful man. It is a matter of immediate concern to every one to know the basis of Mr. Burbank's success. Has he secrets which are to die with him? Or are we to have numerous workers to whom life forces are as plastic clay? Do his accomplishments prove to us the economic value of recent scientific work or do they refer us back to principles and methods always known but lightly regarded in our eagerness to grasp ideas announced as sure to supersede all that has gone before?
The answer to these questions interests the workers among plants, and no less the student of animals, because the laws of inheritance are, to a large extent, alike in both kingdoms. To most biologists and breeders the greatest value of Mr. Burbank's work lies in the light it throws upon inheritance and the encouragement it offers to persons whose natural leanings prompt them to identify themselves with commercial or scientific work with plants or animals.
The best opinion seems to be that the effect of Mr. Burbank's work will not be to revolutionize breeding practise, but that it does mark an important step in the complete adaptation of plants and animals to all the needs of man. It does this by demonstrating what may be done in the light of knowledge that has been always with us, but seldom appreciated.
Professor Kellogg, of Leland Stanford University, a biologist of standing, and quite intimately acquainted with Mr. Burbank and his work, writes of it in these words:
Most of Mr. Burbank's creations are originated by the crossing of existing forms. In a large number of hybrids there is almost a certainty of their being some chance individual of useful character. "In one year he burned up 65,000 two-and three-year-old hybrid seedling berry bushes in one great bonfire, and had fourteen others of similar size."
About the same time that the Mendelian law was rediscovered the word mutations came into use, and it is such a useful word that it is now widely used outside of biology. The fact that plants and animals produce distinctive characters not connected with the ordinary form by intermediate stages is perhaps of greater importance than any other announcement since the publication of "The Origin of Species." Although in a sense opposed to Darwin's conception, the examination of the change in species through mutations as given by de Vries would, in all probability, have been most warmly received by Darwin, because it is a reasonable amendment to his maturest attempt to enunciate the laws of nature.
The fact that mutations do occur, and that they may properly be considered the foundation of elementary species or varieties, as shown by de Vries, is of the highest economic significance. It is only through procedure based upon this principle that lasting results have been obtained by even the most careful selection and improvement of farm crops. Because of the violation of this principle, much conscientious effort has failed to originate even a single variety of lasting value.
We now recognize that in the creations available we have the beginnings and the possibilities of all we seem likely to want or need in the way of new varieties or types of plants or animals.
From a field sown with a supposed pure variety of Swedish barely, Nilsson has isolated and established a number of separate and distinct types, each one having some features of utility that renders it superior to the crop formerly grown in the locality for which it was designed. Here, too, the "man" factor was the chief factor. Nilsson's work especially suggests that the beginnings of all we need are to be found by those who have the skill and the diligence to detect and use them.
In a similar instance, a worker in an American experiment station has isolated a number of types of cotton of distinct usefulness from a field of what had been regarded as a standard variety.
This conception of the origin of varieties emphasizes the single individual rather than the group, and necessitates such intimacy with plant or animal form as will qualify the breeder to recognize and utilize the wealth of material always at hand. And it may also be said that it was only when, through a recognition of this principle, plant breeders began to emulate animal breeders by basing their work upon the individual rather than the group, that lasting results were forthcoming.
This conception also places within the reach of every farmer the means of developing varieties of field crops possessed of characters of especial adaptability to his own land and looks toward more numerous seed farms and the almost negligible difficulty in securing for each field the seeds of varieties of maximum value and productive of maximum yields.
Although the occurrence and use of mutations are less fully understood in animals, it affords a sensible explanation of the most of the progress of animal breeders, and clearly shows that after all, even to a greater degree than we had ever before realized, our chief dependence is upon the exercise of the "man" factor, in detecting and properly estimating the possibilities always available to those who truly desire and are qualified to use them.
Agriculture consists of dealings with plants and animals. The nature and behavior of a plant or an animal is determined and controlled by its inheritance and its environment. Heretofore, the inheritance has been but little understood and interest and effort have centered chiefly around environment. The possibilities of that factor and the possibilities of profiting by its control have therefore come to be well understood. Considering this, it is not strange that the other factor, of inheritance, being little understood, should often have been regarded as of minor importance.
There is still much to be added to our knowledge of inheritance, but the new light of the past decade shows that the man factor at work in directing inheritance may be at least equally as productive as when applied through environment.
It is unsatisfactory to attempt to indicate how the use of this newly perceived power will be evidenced.
The Use of More Definite Knowledge of Heredity
The greater attention to the securing of varieties of crops that give maximum returns of maximum value will add greatly to the productiveness of our lands, and the increase of yields can be supported by soil resources now going to waste; the effort to raise yields by this means will encourage such interest and study as must precede intelligent conservation. It does not seem likely that new creations will occur in field agriculture as have been produced in horticulture, though our knowledge of the origin and inheritance of characters is already being utilized to develop such new varieties of old species as will be adapted to the alkali and semi-arid and otherwise unproductive areas, and thus add greatly to the production from large areas that can never hope to be brought under irrigation.
The securing of seed to produce maximum yields is a matter that has to be canvassed for each particular field and for each particular type of farming necessitated by local conditions governing production and marketing.
In the animal kingdom the new conception of heredity may produce new strains and new breeds to meet newly created demands, or to meet the requirements of localities not fully served by existing types.
The length of time between generations of animals, and the great number of characters that must be considered make it appear that animal breeding, even more than plant breeding, must still remain an art. It is as true to-day as when stated by Darwin fifty years ago, that,
not one man in a thousand has accuracy of eye and judgment sufficient to become an eminent breeder. If gifted with these qualities, and he studies the subject for years, and devotes his lifetime to it with indomitable perseverance, he will succeed and may make great improvement. If he wants any of these qualities, he will assuredly fail.
It is not in the appearance of eminent breeders, however, that the greatest hope of the future lies. Most of our past progress has been effected as a result of the distribution of surplus stock of eminent breeders, who knew nothing of the science upon which their work was based. Naturally gifted breeders of the future will be able to accomplish still more, because, as a result of study, they may come to have the proper appreciation of fundamental facts which they could otherwise have attained only by experience extending over a large part of the periods of their activities.
In both animals and plants we may look for advancement through the elevation of the best existing types, but a still greater economic advancement may be expected through the discarding, by the majority, of their inferior stock, in order that they may procure the instruments of greater worth, and so emulate the practises of the more progressive of their acquaintances.
This progressive attitude will come as a result of the more general and the more practical appreciation by the many, of the faith in heredity and selection that has been the cornerstone of the success of the few in the past. It will be accomplished by the spread of biological knowledge concerning heredity. It is true that that knowledge is in imperfect form and that we are still unable to originate what we desire, but such significant facts as are fully established shed sufficient light to dispel the darkness and mystery that still prevent over ninety per cent, of our farmers from entertaining that conception of the influence of heredity that is essential to good economic practise.
The greatest service of the biology of the past decade consists in having placed the science of the rearing of plants and animals in good pedagogic form. The placing of the art of breeding upon a teachable, scientific basis, and the realization of what is possible through the fullest exercise of the man factor, gives a very hopeful aspect to the agriculture of the future.
It is to be regretted that our students of heredity and our breeders are not in closer touch with each other. Though the responsibility for this lack of intimate association rests with both parties, I am inclined to think that the biologists are most at fault. In the first place, some of those most sanguine of a complete revolution in breeding practise destroyed what confidence the agriculturists had in them by extravagant and unwarranted predictions and by recommendations that were altogether impracticable. Following this extreme optimism, the same men, during the past few months, have evidenced a pessimistic attitude and, what is worse, have not refrained from expressing their reactionary ideas to the people who were beginning to share some of the former optimism. These pessimistic utterances are based upon data concerning supposed non-inheritance, which data, when not rejected by the practical breeder, are to him suggestive of contrary conclusions. This unfortunate condition is attributable to the disposition of the teachers to discuss the higher debatable points with pupils who have not yet had time to master the elements.
Since the passage of the Adams Act in 1906, much new work has been inaugurated that has for its object the establishment of the right relations between science, and especially biological science, and agriculture. Some of the experiment-station projects have yielded principally negative results, but are none the less valuable on that account. More and better trained workers are needed, and this fact will no doubt bring to the aid of biology and agriculture many capable workers such as have heretofore been discouraged by the lack of opportunities to make themselves useful in this field.
"The achievements of 'pure' science in one generation constitute the formulæ of the 'applied' science of the next." These students of applied science are also certain to be of great service to pure science. Some of the most valuable scientific conclusions have been derived from the results and carefully kept data of experimenters engaged in work carried on for commercial advantages. Continued additions to the science, as worked out into their applications, will continue to modify farm operations.
But it is not alone through agriculture that the world is increasingly indebted to our biologists. If ninety per cent, of our farmers are hampered in their work by their present ignorance concerning heredity, it can be said with equal truthfulness that over ninety per cent, of our entire population live less intelligently and therefore to less purpose than they might live if, for the almost complete ignorance of the hereditary processes there could be substituted a reasonable conception of the things that connect the individual with his ancestry and which show that the welfare of the race, while advanced by the improvement of the individual, is still of greater moment than that of any one individual, and conditions which are seriously detrimental to the individual are not infrequently beneficial to a large number of the race.
The American Breeders' Association is an organized agency working to bring human needs and industries into more intimate relation with the fundamental science of heredity. One branch of the work of this association, of vital importance to the nation, has been given some prominence in late magazine numbers. This is the study of human inheritance as carried on by the association's committee on eugenics.
The objects of this committee are "to investigate and report on heredity in the human race; to devise methods of recording the values of the blood of individuals, families, peoples and races; to emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood; and to suggest methods of improving the heredity of the family, the people and the race."
The personnel of the committee is a guarantee that the matter will be thoroughly studied and that there will be no premature recommendations of legislation. David Starr Jordan is the chairman of the committee and Professors C. B. Davenport, Castle and Kellogg are among the members. Their plan is to first study the situation and effect a reform in the tabulation of vital and social statistics, then to work for the education of the race upon the facts of human inheritance. The situation is well expressed by the secretary of the committee in a recent publication:
A new plague that rendered four per cent, of our population, chiefly at the most productive age, not only incompetent but a burden costing one hundred million dollars yearly to support, would instantly attract universal attention, and millions would be forthcoming for its study. . . . But we have become so used to crime, disease and degeneracy that we take them as necessary evils. That they were, in the world's ignorance, is granted. That they must remain so, is denied. Vastly more effective than ten million dollars to "charity" would be ten million to eugenics. He who, by such a gift, should redeem mankind from vice, and suffering, would be the world's wisest philanthropist.