1902 Encyclopedia > Biology > Immediate Consequences of Fecundation

(Part 16)

Immediate Consequences of Fecundation

The effect of impregnation appears in all cases to be that the impregnated protoplasm tends to divide into portions (blastomeres), which may remain united as a single cell-aggregate, or some or all of which may become separate organisms. A larger or shorter period of rest, in many cases, intervenes between the act of impregnation and the commencement of the process of division.

As a general rule, the female cell, which directly receives the influences of the male is that which undergoes division and eventual development into independent germs; but there are some plants, such as the Florideae, in which this is not the case. In these the protoplasmic body of the trichogyne, which unites with the molecular spermatazoids, does not undergo division itself, but transmits some influence to adjacent cells, in virtue of which they become subdivided into independent germs or spores.

There is still much obscurity respecting the reproductive processes of the Infusoria; but, in the Vorticellidae, it would appear that conjugational merely determines a condition of the whole organism, which gives rise to the division of the endoplast or so-called nucleus, by which germs are thrown off; and if this be the case, the process would have some analogy to what takes place in the Florideae.

On the other hand, the process of conjugation by which two distinct Diporpae combine into that extraordinary double organism, the Diplozoon paradoxum, does not directly give rise to germs, but determines the development of the sexual organs in each of the conjugated individuals; and the same process takes place in a large number of the Infusoria, if what are supposed to be male sexual elements in them are really such.

The process of impregnation in the Florideae is remarkably interesting, from its bearing upon the changes which fecundation is known to produce upon parts of the parental organism other than the ovum, even in the highest animals and plants.

The nature of the influence exerted by the male element upon the female is wholly unknown. No morphological distinction can be drawn between those cells which are capable of reproducing the whole organism without impregnation, and those which need it, as is obvious from what happened in insects, where eggs which ordinarily require impregnation. Even in the higher animals, such as the fowl, the earlier stages of division of the germ may take place without impregnation.

In fact, generation may be regarded as a particular case of cell multiplication, and impregnation simply as one of the many conditions which may determine or affect that process. In the lowest organisms, the simple protoplasmic mass divides, and each part retains all the physiological properties of the whole body can be reproduced. In more advanced organisms, each of the multitude of cells into which the embryo cell is converted at first, probably retains all, or nearly all, the physiological capabilities of the whole, and is capable of serving, as a reproductive germ; but as division goes on, and many of the cells which result from division acquire special morphological and physiological properties, it seems not improbable that they, in proportion, lose their more general characters. In proportion, for example, as the tendency of a given cell to become a muscle cell, or a cartilage cell is more marked and definite, it is readily conceivable that its primitive capacity to reproduce the whole organism should be reduced, though it might not be altogether abolished. If this view is well, based the power of reproducing the whole organism would be limited to those cells which had acquired no special tendencies, and consequently had retained all the powers of the primitive cell in which the organism commenced its existence.
The more extensively diffused such cells were, the more generally might multiplication by budding or fission take place; the more localized, the more limited would be the parts of the organism in which such a process would take place.

And even where such cells occurred, their development or non-development might be connected with conditions of nutrition. It depends on the nutriment supplied to the female larva of a bee whether it shall become a neuter or a sexually perfect female; and the sexual perfection of a large proportion of the internal parasites is similarly dependent upon their food, and perhaps on other conditions, such as the temperature of the medium in which they live.

Thus the gradual disappearance of agamogenesis in the higher animals would be related with that increasing specialization of function which is their essential characteristics; and when it ceases to occur altogether, it may be supposed that no cells are left which retain unmodified the powers of the primitive embryo cell. The organism is like a society in which everyone is so engrossed by his special business that he has neither time nor inclination to marry.

Even the female elements, in the highest organisms, little as they differ to all appearance form undifferentiated cells, and though they are directly derived from epithelial cells which have undergone very little modification from the condition of blastomeres, are incapable of full development unless they are subjected to the influence of the male element, which may, as Caspar Wolff suggested, be compared to a kind of nutriment. But it is a living nutriment, in some respects comparable to that which would be supplied to an animal kept alive by transfusion, and its molecules transfer to the impregnated embryo cell all the special characters of the organism to which it belonged.

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