Project Gutenberg's Darwin and Modern Science, by A. C. Seward and Others


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Professor of Botany in the University of Bonn.

Since 1875 an unexpected insight has been gained into the internal structure of cells. Those who are familiar with the results of investigations in this branch of Science are convinced that any modern theory of heredity must rest on a basis of cytology and cannot be at variance with cytological facts. Many histological discoveries, both such as have been proved correct and others which may be accepted as probably well founded, have acquired a fundamental importance from the point of view of the problems of heredity.

My aim is to describe the present position of our knowledge of Cytology. The account must be confined to essentials and cannot deal with far-reaching and controversial questions. In cases where difference of opinion exists, I adopt my own view for which I hold myself responsible. I hope to succeed in making myself intelligible even without the aid of illustrations: in order to convey to the uninitiated an adequate idea of the phenomena connected with the life of a cell, a greater number of figures would be required than could be included within the scope of this article.

So long as the most eminent investigators (As for example the illustrious Wilhelm Hofmeister in his "Lehre von der Pflanzenzelle" (1867).) believed that the nucleus of a cell was destroyed in the course of each division and that the nuclei of the daughter-cells were produced de novo, theories of heredity were able to dispense with the nucleus. If they sought, as did Charles Darwin, who showed a correct grasp of the problem in the enunciation of his Pangenesis hypothesis, for histological connecting links, their hypotheses, or at least the best of them, had reference to the cell as a whole. It was known to Darwin that the cell multiplied by division and was derived from a similar pre-existing cell. Towards 1870 it was first demonstrated that cell-nuclei do not arise de novo, but are invariably the result of division of pre-existing nuclei. Better methods of investigation rendered possible a deeper insight into the phenomena accompanying cell and nuclear divisions and at the same time disclosed the existence of remarkable structures. The work of O. Butschli, O. Hertwig, W. Flemming H. Fol and of the author of this article (For further reference to literature, see my article on "Die Ontogenie der Zelle seit 1875", in the "Progressus Rei Botanicae", Vol. I. page 1, Jena, 1907.), have furnished conclusive evidence in favour of these facts. It was found that when the reticular framework of a nucleus prepares to divide, it separates into single segments. These then become thicker and denser, taking up with avidity certain stains, which are used as aids to investigation, and finally form longer or shorter, variously bent, rodlets of uniform thickness. In these organs which, on account of their special property of absorbing certain stains, were styled Chromosomes (By W. Waldeyer in 1888.), there may usually be recognised a separation into thicker and thinner discs; the former are often termed Chromomeres. (Discovered by W. Pfitzner in 1880.) In the course of division of the nucleus, the single rows of chromomeres in the chromosomes are doubled and this produces a band-like flattening and leads to the longitudinal splitting by which each chromosome is divided into two exactly equal halves. The nuclear membrane then disappears and fibrillar cell-plasma or cytoplasm invades the nuclear area. In animal cells these fibrillae in the cytoplasm centre on definite bodies (Their existence and their multiplication by fission were demonstrated by E. van Beneden and Th. Boveri in 1887.), which it is customary to speak of as Centrosomes. Radiating lines in the adjacent cell-plasma suggest that these bodies constitute centres of force. The cells of the higher plants do not possess such individualised centres; they have probably disappeared in the course of phylogenetic development: in spite of this, however, in the nuclear division-figures the fibrillae of the cell-plasma are seen to radiate from two opposite poles. In both animal and plant cells a fibrillar bipolar spindle is formed, the fibrillae of which grasp the longitudinally divided chromosomes from two opposite sides and arrange them on the equatorial plane of the spindle as the so-called nuclear or equatorial plate. Each half-chromosome is connected with one of the spindle poles only and is then drawn towards that pole. (These important facts, suspected by W. Flemming in 1882, were demonstrated by E. Heuser, L. Guignard, E. van Beneden, M. Nussbaum, and C. Rabl.)

The formation of the daughter-nuclei is then effected. The changes which the daughter-chromosomes undergo in the process of producing the daughter-nuclei repeat in the reverse order the changes which they went through in the course of their progressive differentiation from the mother-nucleus. The division of the cell-body is completed midway between the two daughter-nuclei. In animal cells, which possess no chemically differentiated membrane, separation is effected by simple constriction, while in the case of plant cells provided with a definite wall, the process begins with the formation of a cytoplasmic separating layer.

The phenomena observed in the course of the division of the nucleus show beyond doubt that an exact halving of its substance is of the greatest importance. (First shown by W. Roux in 1883.) Compared with the method of division of the nucleus, that of the cytoplasm appears to be very simple. This led to the conception that the cell-nucleus must be the chief if not the sole carrier of hereditary characters in the organism. It is for this reason that the detailed investigation of fertilisation phenomena immediately followed researches into the nucleus. The fundamental discovery of the union of two nuclei in the sexual act was then made (By O. Hertwig in 1875.) and this afforded a new support for the correct conception of the nuclear functions. The minute study of the behaviour of the other constituents of sexual cells during fertilisation led to the result, that the nucleus alone is concerned with handing on hereditary characters (This was done by O. Hertwig and the author of this essay simultaneously in 1884.) from one generation to another. Especially important, from the point of view of this conclusion, is the study of fertilisation in Angiosperms (Flowering plants); in these plants the male sexual cells lose their cell-body in the pollen-tube and the nucleus only—the sperm-nucleus—reaches the egg. The cytoplasm of the male sexual cell is therefore not necessary to ensure a transference of hereditary characters from parents to offspring. I lay stress on the case of the Angiosperms because researches recently repeated with the help of the latest methods failed to obtain different results. As regards the descendants of angiospermous plants, the same laws of heredity hold good as for other sexually differentiated organisms; we may, therefore, extend to the latter what the Angiosperms so clearly teach us.

The next advance in the hitherto rapid progress in our knowledge of nuclear division was delayed, because it was not at once recognised that there are two absolutely different methods of nuclear division. All such nuclear divisions were united under the head of indirect or mitotic divisions; these were also spoken of as karyo-kineses, and were distinguished from the direct or amitotic divisions which are characterised by a simple constriction of the nuclear body. So long as the two kinds of indirect nuclear division were not clearly distinguished, their correct interpretation was impossible. This was accomplished after long and laborious research, which has recently been carried out and with results which should, perhaps, be regarded as provisional.

Soon after the new study of the nucleus began, investigators were struck by the fact that the course of nuclear division in the mother-cells, or more correctly in the grandmother-cells, of spores, pollen-grains, and embryo-sacs of the more highly organised plants and in the spermatozoids and eggs of the higher animals, exhibits similar phenomena, distinct from those which occur in the somatic cells.

In the nuclei of all those cells which we may group together as gonotokonts (At the suggestion of J.P. Lotsy in 1904.) (i.e. cells concerned in reproduction) there are fewer chromosomes than in the adjacent body-cells (somatic cells). It was noticed also that there is a peculiarity characteristic of the gonotokonts, namely the occurrence of two nuclear divisions rapidly succeeding one another. It was afterwards recognised that in the first stage of nuclear division in the gonotokonts the chromosomes unite in pairs: it is these chromosome-pairs, and not the two longitudinal halves of single chromosomes, which form the nuclear plate in the equatorial plane of the nuclear spindle. It has been proposed to call these pairs gemini. (J.E.S. Moore and A.L. Embleton, "Proc. Roy. Soc." London, Vol. LXXVII. page 555, 1906; V. Gregoire, 1907.) In the course of this division the spindle-fibrillae attach themselves to the gemini, i.e. to entire chromosomes and direct them to the points where the new daughter-nuclei are formed, that is to those positions towards which the longitudinal halves of the chromosomes travel in ordinary nuclear divisions. It is clear that in this way the number of chromosomes which the daughter-nuclei contain, as the result of the first stage in division in the gonotokonts, will be reduced by one half, while in ordinary divisions the number of chromosomes always remains the same. The first stage in the division of the nucleus in the gonotokonts has therefore been termed the reduction division. (In 1887 W. Flemming termed this the heterotypic form of nuclear division.) This stage in division determines the conditions for the second division which rapidly ensues. Each of the paired chromosomes of the mother-nucleus has already, as in an ordinary nuclear division, completed the longitudinal fission, but in this case it is not succeeded by the immediate separation of the longitudinal halves and their allotment to different nuclei. Each chromosome, therefore, takes its two longitudinal halves into the same daughter-nucleus. Thus, in each daughter-nucleus the longitudinal halves of the chromosomes are present ready for the next stage in the division; they only require to be arranged in the nuclear plate and then distributed among the granddaughter-nuclei. This method of division, which takes place with chromosomes already split, and which have only to provide for the distribution of their longitudinal halves to the next nuclear generation, has been called homotypic nuclear division. (The name was proposed by W. Flemming in 1887; the nature of this type of division was, however, not explained until later.)

Reduction division and homotypic nuclear division are included together under the term allotypic nuclear division and are distinguished from the ordinary or typical nuclear division. The name Meiosis (By J. Bretland Farmer and J.E.S. Moore in 1905.) has also been proposed for these two allotypic nuclear divisions. The typical divisions are often spoken of as somatic.

Observers who were actively engaged in this branch of recent histological research soon noticed that the chromosomes of a given organism are differentiated in definite numbers from the nuclear network in the course of division. This is especially striking in the gonotokonts, but it applies also to the somatic tissues. In the latter, one usually finds twice as many chromosomes as in the gonotokonts. Thus the conclusion was gradually reached that the doubling of chromosomes, which necessarily accompanies fertilisation, is maintained in the product of fertilisation, to be again reduced to one half in the gonotokonts at the stage of reduction-division. This enabled us to form a conception as to the essence of true alternation of generations, in which generations containing single and double chromosomes alternate with one another.

The single-chromosome generation, which I will call the HAPLOID, must have been the primitive generation in all organisms; it might also persist as the only generation. Every sexual differentiation in organisms, which occurred in the course of phylogenetic development, was followed by fertilisation and therefore by the creation of a diploid or double-chromosome product. So long as the germination of the product of fertilisation, the zygote, began with a reducing process, a special DIPLOID generation was not represented. This, however, appeared later as a product of the further evolution of the zygote, and the reduction division was correspondingly postponed. In animals, as in plants, the diploid generation attained the higher development and gradually assumed the dominant position. The haploid generation suffered a proportional reduction, until it finally ceased to have an independent existence and became restricted to the role of producing the sexual products within the body of the diploid generation. Those who do not possess the necessary special knowledge are unable to realise what remains of the first haploid generation in a phanerogamic plant or in a vertebrate animal. In Angiosperms this is actually represented only by the short developmental stages which extend from the pollen mother-cells to the sperm-nucleus of the pollen-tube, and from the embryo-sac mother-cell to the egg and the endosperm tissue. The embryo-sac remains enclosed in the diploid ovule, and within this from the fertilised egg is formed the embryo which introduces the new diploid generation. On the full development of the diploid embryo of the next generation, the diploid ovule of the preceding diploid generation is separated from the latter as a ripe seed. The uninitiated sees in the more highly organised plants only a succession of diploid generations. Similarly all the higher animals appear to us as independent organisms with diploid nuclei only. The haploid generation is confined in them to the cells produced as the result of the reduction division of the gonotokonts; the development of these is completed with the homotypic stage of division which succeeds the reduction division and produces the sexual products.

The constancy of the numbers in which the chromosomes separate themselves from the nuclear network during division gave rise to the conception that, in a certain degree, chromosomes possess individuality. Indeed the most careful investigations (Particularly those of V. Gregoire and his pupils.) have shown that the segments of the nuclear network, which separate from one another and condense so as to produce chromosomes for a new division, correspond to the segments produced from the chromosomes of the preceding division. The behaviour of such nuclei as possess chromosomes of unequal size affords confirmatory evidence of the permanence of individual chromosomes in corresponding sections of an apparently uniform nuclear network. Moreover at each stage in division chromosomes with the same differences in size reappear. Other cases are known in which thicker portions occur in the substance of the resting nucleus, and these agree in number with the chromosomes. In this network, therefore, the individual chromosomes must have retained their original position. But the chromosomes cannot be regarded as the ultimate hereditary units in the nuclei, as their number is too small. Moreover, related species not infrequently show a difference in the number of their chromosomes, whereas the number of hereditary units must approximately agree. We thus picture to ourselves the carriers of hereditary characters as enclosed in the chromosomes; the transmitted fixed number of chromosomes is for us only the visible expression of the conception that the number of hereditary units which the chromosomes carry must be also constant. The ultimate hereditary units may, like the chromosomes themselves, retain a definite position in the resting nucleus. Further, it may be assumed that during the separation of the chromosomes from one another and during their assumption of the rod-like form, the hereditary units become aggregated in the chromomeres and that these are characterised by a constant order of succession. The hereditary units then grow, divide into two and are uniformly distributed by the fission of the chromosomes between their longitudinal halves.

As the contraction and rod-like separation of the chromosomes serve to isnure the transmission of all hereditary units in the products of division of a nucleus, so, on the other hand, the reticular distension of each chromosome in the so-called resting nucleus may effect a separation of the carriers of hereditary units from each other and facilitate the specific activity of each of them.

In the stages preliminary to their division, the chromosomes become denser and take up a substance which increases their staining capacity; this is called chromatin. This substance collects in the chromomeres and may form the nutritive material for the carriers of hereditary units which we now believe to be enclosed in them. The chromatin cannot itself be the hereditary substance, as it afterwards leaves the chromosomes, and the amount of it is subject to considerable variation in the nucleus, according to its stage of development. Conjointly with the materials which take part in the formation of the nuclear spindle and other processes in the cell, the chromatin accumulates in the resting nucleus to form the nucleoli.

Naturally connected with the conclusion that the nuclei are the carriers of hereditary characters in the organism, is the question whether enucleate organisms can also exist. Phylogenetic considerations give an affirmative answer to this question. The differentiation into nucleus and cytoplasm represents a division of labour in the protoplast. A study of organisms which belong to the lowest class of the organic world teaches us how this was accomplished. Instead of well-defined nuclei, scattered granules have been described in the protoplasm of several of these organisms (Bacteria, Cyanophyceae, Protozoa.), characterised by the same reactions as nuclear material, provided also with a nuclear network, but without a limiting membrane. (This is the result of the work of R. Hertwig and of the most recently published investigations.) Thus the carriers of hereditary characters may originally have been distributed in the common protoplasm, afterwards coming together and eventually assuming a definite form as special organs of the cell. It may be also assumed that in the protoplasm and in the primitive types of nucleus, the carriers of the same hereditary unit were represented in considerable quantity; they became gradually differentiated to an extent commensurate with newly acquired characters. It was also necessary that, in proportion as this happened, the mechanism of nuclear division must be refined. At first processes resembling a simple constriction would suffice to provide for the distribution of all hereditary units to each of the products of division, but eventually in both organic kingdoms nuclear division, which alone insured the qualitative identity of the products of division, became a more marked feature in the course of cell-multiplication.

Where direct nuclear division occurs by constriction in the higher organisms, it does not result in the halving of hereditary units. So far as my observations go, direct nuclear division occurs in the more highly organised plants only in cells which have lost their specific functions. Such cells are no longer capable of specific reproduction. An interesting case in this connection is afforded by the internodal cells of the Characeae, which possess only vegetative functions. These cells grow vigorously and their cytoplasm increases, their growth being accompanied by a correspondingly direct multiplication of the nuclei. They serve chiefly to nourish the plant, but, unlike the other cells, they are incapable of producing any offspring. This is a very instructive case, because it clearly shows that the nuclei are not only carriers of hereditary characters, but that they also play a definite part in the metabolism of the protoplasts.

Attention was drawn to the fact that during the reducing division of nuclei which contain chromosomes of unequal size, gemini are constantly produced by the pairing of chromosomes of the same size. This led to the conclusion that the pairing chromosomes are homologous, and that one comes from the father, the other from the mother. (First stated by T.H. Montgomery in 1901 and by W.S. Sutton in 1902.) This evidently applies also to the pairing of chromosomes in those reduction-divisions in which differences in size do not enable us to distinguish the individual chromosomes. In this case also each pair would be formed by two homologous chromosomes, the one of paternal, the other of maternal origin. When the separation of these chromosomes and their distribution to both daughter-nuclei occur a chromosome of each kind is provided for each of these nuclei. It would seem that the components of each pair might pass to either pole of the nuclear spindle, so that the paternal and maternal chromosomes would be distributed in varying proportion between the daughter-nuclei; and it is not impossible that one daughter-nucleus might occasionally contain paternal chromosomes only and its sister-nucleus exclusively maternal chromosomes.

The fact that in nuclei containing chromosomes of various sizes, the chromosomes which pair together in reduction-division are always of equal size, constitutes a further and more important proof of their qualitative difference. This is supported also by ingenious experiments which led to an unequal distribution of chromosomes in the products of division of a sea-urchin's egg, with the result that a difference was induced in their further development. (Demonstrated by Th. Boveri in 1902.)

The recently discovered fact that in diploid nuclei the chromosomes are arranged in pairs affords additional evidence in favour of the unequal value of the chromosomes. This is still more striking in the case of chromosomes of different sizes. It has been shown that in the first division-figure in the nucleus of the fertilised egg the chromosomes of corresponding size form pairs. They appear with this arrangement in all subsequent nuclear divisions in the diploid generation. The longitudinal fissions of the chromosomes provide for the unaltered preservation of this condition. In the reduction nucleus of the gonotokonts the homologous chromosomes being near together need not seek out one another; they are ready to form gemini. The next stage is their separation to the haploid daughter-nuclei, which have resulted from the reduction process.

Peculiar phenomena in the reduction nucleus accompany the formation of gemini in both organic kingdoms. (This has been shown more particularly by the work of L. Guignard, M. Mottier, J.B. Farmer, C.B. Wilson, V. Hacker and more recently by V. Gregoire and his pupil C.A. Allen, by the researches conducted in the Bonn Botanical Institute, and by A. and K.E. Schreiner.) Probably for the purpose of entering into most intimate relation, the pairs are stretched to long threads in which the chromomeres come to lie opposite one another. (C.A. Allen, A. and K.E. Schreiner, and Strasburger.) It seems probable that these are homologous chromomeres, and that the pairs afterwards unite for a short time, so that an exchange of hereditary units is rendered possible. (H. de Vries and Strasburger.) This cannot be actually seen, but certain facts of heredity point to the conclusion that this occurs. It follows from these phenomena that any exchange which may be effected must be one of homologous carriers of hereditary units only. These units continue to form exchangeable segments after they have undergone unequal changes; they then constitute allelotropic pairs. We may thus calculate what sum of possible combinations the exchange of homologous hereditary units between the pairing chromosomes provides for before the reduction division and the subsequent distribution of paternal and maternal chromosomes in the haploid daughter-nuclei. These nuclei then transmit their characters to the sexual cells, the conjugation of which in fertilization again produces the most varied combinations. (A. Weismann gave the impulse to these ideas in his theory on "Amphimixis".) In this way all the cooperations which the carriers of hereditary characters are capable of in a species are produced; this must give it an appreciable advantage in the struggle for life.

The admirers of Charles Darwin must deeply regret that he did not live to see the results achieved by the new Cytology. What service would they have been to him in the presentation of his hypothesis of Pangenesis; what an outlook into the future would they have given to his active mind!

The Darwinian hypothesis of Pangenesis rests on the conception that all inheritable properties are represented in the cells by small invisible particles or gemmules and that these gemmules increase by division. Cytology began to develop on new lines some years after the publication in 1868 of Charles Darwin's "Provisional hypothesis of Pangenesis" ("Animals and Plants under Domestication", London, 1868, Chapter XXVII.), and when he died in 1882 it was still in its infancy. Darwin would have soon suggested the substitution of the nuclei for his gemmules. At least the great majority of present-day investigators in the domain of cytology have been led to the conclusion that the nucleus is the carrier of hereditary characters, and they also believe that hereditary characters are represented in the nucleus as distinct units. Such would be Darwin's gemmules, which in conformity with the name of his hypothesis may be called pangens (So called by H. de Vries in 1889.): these pangens multiply by division. All recently adopted views may be thus linked on to this part of Darwin's hypothesis. It is otherwise with Darwin's conception to which Pangenesis owes its name, namely the view that all cells continually give off gemmules, which migrate to other places in the organism, where they unite to form reproductive cells. When Darwin foresaw this possibility, the continuity of the germinal substance was still unknown (Demonstrated by Nussbaum in 1880, by Sachs in 1882, and by Weismann in 1885.), a fact which excludes a transference of gemmules.

But even Charles Darwin's genius was confined within finite boundaries by the state of science in his day.

It is not my province to deal with other theories of development which followed from Darwin's Pangenesis, or to discuss their histological probabilities. We can, however, affirm that Charles Darwin's idea that invisible gemmules are the carriers of hereditary characters and that they multiply by division has been removed from the position of a provisional hypothesis to that of a well-founded theory. It is supported by histology, and the results of experimental work in heredity, which are now assuming extraordinary prominence, are in close agreement with it.

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