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Thread: Did Darwin know about genes?

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Did Darwin know about genes?

    So I am trying to get a better grip on some of the basics of biology and evolution 101 and a big picture of how the theory came to be, and have plenty of misunderstandings to cut through. Please forgive my ignorant question. How familiar was Darwin (and even Wallace, who simultaneously uncovered evolution via natural selection but did not have the publicity of Darwin) with genetics? Did either of them know anything about genes? Had the scientific community, at that time, already discovered genes in particular or were they an unknown entity? Did all of the understanding of genetics come afterwards? Darwin uncovered descent with modification, and the impact of favorable versus unfavorable traits, without knowing anything about genes?

    Thanks.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Nope! Mendel and Darwin were contemporaries, but Mendel's work was not recognized by the world at large until much later. Mendel also knew little more about the mechanism of genetic exchange than anyone else in his time; the technology to actually observe DNA, etc, would not exist until the next century. Darwin did suspect something akin to genes, ie. some physical property intermixing at time of conception resulting in an inheritance of certain traits, but little was known about them. He even calls these "gemmules" at one point, but was completely wrong about how they worked. I would heartily recommend reading Origin of the Species for yourself if you have not, it is not terribly long and the author gives a very full explanation of his reasoning. But essentially, his theories were derived from his observations of living organisms, not the molecular science that would later come to typify the conversation. The popular definition of evolution as a change in allele frequency over time was many, many decades in the future.

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    Veteran Member skepticalbip's Avatar
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    Genes were not yet known about at the time but uncle Chuck did postulate that there was something in the cells that passed the traits of the parents to their offspring.

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    I just cheated a bit and found this that may interest you and answer your question better.
    https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/charles...ory-pangenesis

    In 1868 in England, Charles Darwin proposed his pangenesis theory to describe the units of inheritance between parents and offspring and the processes by which those units control development in offspring. Darwin coined the concept of gemmules, which he said referred to hypothesized minute particles of inheritance thrown off by all cells of the body. The theory suggested that an organism's environment could modify the gemmules in any parts of the body, and that these modified gemmules would congregate in the reproductive organs of parents to be passed on to their offspring. Darwin's theory of pangenesis gradually lost popularity in the 1890s when biologists increasingly abandoned the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics (IAC), on which the pangenesis theory partially relied. Around the turn of the twentieth century, biologists replaced the theory of pangenesis with germ plasm theory and then with chromosomal theories of inheritance, and they replaced the concept of gemmules with that of genes.

    ... snip ...

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Charles Darwin had as good an understanding of heredity as anyone might have in his time. There were various models of heredity at the time, but all were based on empirical observation. This meant heredity was treated much like gravity or magnetism. It could be observed and measured, but there was no satisfactory explanation of the mechanism by which it worked.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    Charles Darwin had as good an understanding of heredity as anyone might have in his time. There were various models of heredity at the time, but all were based on empirical observation. This meant heredity was treated much like gravity or magnetism. It could be observed and measured, but there was no satisfactory explanation of the mechanism by which it worked.
    Magnetism works by the exchange of photons.

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    IIRC, Mendel sent Darwin his findings, but Darwin never responded, and Mendel's papers were found amongs Darwin's after his death. Whether he reviewed them or not is not known. It wasn’t until after Mendel's death that his work came to renown, around the turn of the century. So Darwin May have known about the work, but never appreciated it.

    I believe this was taught to me in my freshman biology course, but that was forty years ago so my memory may be a bit rusted.

    SLD

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    Charles Darwin had as good an understanding of heredity as anyone might have in his time. There were various models of heredity at the time, but all were based on empirical observation. This meant heredity was treated much like gravity or magnetism. It could be observed and measured, but there was no satisfactory explanation of the mechanism by which it worked.
    Magnetism works by the exchange of photons.
    Then how do magnets work in the dark?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    IIRC, Mendel sent Darwin his findings, but Darwin never responded, and Mendel's papers were found amongs Darwin's after his death. Whether he reviewed them or not is not known. It wasn’t until after Mendel's death that his work came to renown, around the turn of the century. So Darwin May have known about the work, but never appreciated it.

    I believe this was taught to me in my freshman biology course, but that was forty years ago so my memory may be a bit rusted.

    SLD
    I'd never heard that! Kind of funny if true.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by SLD View Post
    IIRC, Mendel sent Darwin his findings, but Darwin never responded, and Mendel's papers were found amongs Darwin's after his death. Whether he reviewed them or not is not known. It wasn’t until after Mendel's death that his work came to renown, around the turn of the century. So Darwin May have known about the work, but never appreciated it.

    I believe this was taught to me in my freshman biology course, but that was forty years ago so my memory may be a bit rusted.

    SLD
    I'd never heard that! Kind of funny if true.
    https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/artic.../8/587/1598792

    This article says it’s unclear whether Darwin was aware of Mendel's work. Mendel sent his published paper to scientists all over Europe and as an admirer of Darwin, he should have sent one to Darwin. However no record exists of the document being found amongst his papers. Still Darwin was in regular communication with numerous scientists throughout Europe during this time. He did provide a colleague with a book that discussed Mendel's work. So maybe he was vaguely aware of it. However he was clinging too hard to the blended theory of inheritance, and would’ve been turned off by Mendel’s mathematical reasoning.

    SLD

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    Member Peez's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    So I am trying to get a better grip on some of the basics of biology and evolution 101 and a big picture of how the theory came to be, and have plenty of misunderstandings to cut through. Please forgive my ignorant question. How familiar was Darwin (and even Wallace, who simultaneously uncovered evolution via natural selection but did not have the publicity of Darwin) with genetics? Did either of them know anything about genes? Had the scientific community, at that time, already discovered genes in particular or were they an unknown entity? Did all of the understanding of genetics come afterwards? Darwin uncovered descent with modification, and the impact of favorable versus unfavorable traits, without knowing anything about genes?

    Thanks.
    Others have addressed this, I would just add that you might find the Modern Synthesis interesting and relevant.

    Peez

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