1902 Encyclopedia > Biology > Hereditary Transmission. Variation.

(Part 17)

Hereditary Transmission. Variation.

The tendency of the germ to reproduce the characters of its immediate parents, combined, in the case of sexual generation, with the tendency to reproduce the characters of the male, is the source of the singular phenomena of hereditary transmission. No structural modification is so slight, and no functional peculiarity is so insignificant in either parent that it may not make its appearance in the offspring. But the transmission of parental peculiarities depends greatly upon the manner in which they have been acquired. Such as have naturally, and have been hereditary through many antecedent generations, tend to appear in the progeny with great force; while artificial modification, such, for examples, as result from mutilation, are rarely, if ever, transmitted. Circumcision through innumerable ancestral generations does not appear to have reduced that rite to a mere formality, as it should have done, if the abbreviated prepuce had become hereditary in the descendants of Abraham; while modern lambs are born with long tails, notwithstanding the long-continued practice of cutting those of every generation short. And it remains to be seen whether the supposed hereditary transmission of the habit of retrieving among dogs is really what it seems at first sight to be; on the other side, Brown-Sèquard’s case of the transmission of artificially induced epilepsy in guinea-pigs is undoubtedly very weighty.

Although the germ always tends to reproduce, directly or indirectly, the organism from which it is derived, the result of its development differs somewhat from the parent. Usually the amount of variation is insignificant; but it may be considerable, as in the so-called "sports;" and such variations, whether useful or useless, may be transmitted with great tenacity to the offspring of the subjects of them.

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