Saturday, January 23, 2016

SciPub: The Mutation Theory

Publication: The Mutation Theory
Date: 1901
Author: Hugo de Vries
Nationality: Dutch
Why is it important? - Although de Vries' original mutation theory soon lost support, he is credited with having rediscovered Mendel's work on inheritance.

In the early twentieth century the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's work with pea plants created a hotbed of activity surrounding genes, evolution, and inherited traits. The theory of evolution was rapidly advancing, not least thanks to the contributions of a Dutch botanist named Hugo de Vries.

Hugo de Vries
De Vries' book The Mutation Theory suggested that new species could arise spontaneously. He had observed that new characteristics could appear within the space of a generation and he pinned the blame on mutations. De Vries began developing his theory during a succession of plant breeding experiments with evening primrose. He noticed that new varieties of the plant would occasionally occur, as if from nowhere, and he believed that these were the results of changes within particles that could be passed on from one generation to the next - what we now would call genetic material. He came to expect these new varieties to prosper - if the changes were favorable in terms of the plant's survival and procreation - and to remain until further mutations occurred.

The Dutchman's work seemed to contradict that of Darwin's theory of evolution and gained him support from anti-Darwin campaigners. However, the new plant varieties he observed turned out to be caused not by mutations, but by the rearrangement of DNA within an individual plant's reproductive cells. It is now accepted that mutations do indeed contribute to evolution, but the reality is a gradual selection of these mutations over many generations.

Source: Defining moments in Science p.23