Navigation Links
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck


Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (August 1,1744 - December 28,1829) was a major 19th century French naturalist, who was one of the first to use the term biology in its modern sense.¹

Lamarck is remembered today mainly in connection with a discredited theory of heredity, the "inheritance of acquired traits", but Charles Darwin and others acknowledged him as an early proponent of ideas about evolution. In 1861, for example, Darwin wrote:

"Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions on the subject excited much attention. This justly celebrated naturalist first published his views in 1801. . . he first did the eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition."

Lamarck's own theory of evolution was in fact based on the idea that individuals adapt during their own lifetimes and transmit traits they acquire to their offspring. Offspring then adapt from where the parents left off, enabling evolution to advance. As a mechanism for adaptation, Lamarck proposed that individuals increased specific capabilities by exercising them, while losing others through disuse. While this conception of evolution did not originate wholly with Lamarck, he has come to personify pre-Darwinian ideas about biological evolution, now called Lamarckism.

Born into poor nobility (hence 'chevalier'), Lamarck served in the army before becoming interested in natural history and writing a multi-volume flora of France. This caught the attention of Le Comte de Buffon who arranged for him to be appointed to the Musum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

After years working on plants, Lamarck was appointed curator of invertebrates -- another term he coined. He began a series of public lectures. Before 1800, he was an essentialist who believed species were unchanging. After working on the molluscs of the Paris Basin, he grew convinced that transmutation or change in the nature of a species occurred over time. He set out to develop an explanation, which he outlined in his 1809 work, Philosophie Zoologique.

Lamarck developed two laws:

  1. In every animal which has not passed the limit of its development, a more frequent and continuous use of any organ gradually strengthens, develops and enlarges that organ, and gives it a power proportional to the length of time it has been so used; while the permanent disuse of any organ imperceptibly weakens and deteriorates it, and progressively diminishes its functional capacity, until it finally disappears.
  2. All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the young.


Lamarck saw spontaneous generation as being ongoing, with the simple organisms thus created being transmuted over time (by his mechanism) becoming more complex and closer to some notional idea of perfection. He thus believed in a teleological (goal-oriented) process where organisms became more perfect as they evolved. During his lifetime he became controversial; his criticism of the palaeontologist Georges Cuvier’s anti-evolutionary stance won him no friends.

His defenders believe he is unfairly vilified today. They note that he believed in organic evolution at a time when there was no theoretical framework to explain evolution. He also argued that function precedes form, an issue of some contention among evolutionary theorists at the time. On the other hand, the inheritance of acquired characteristics is now widely refuted. August Weismann disproved the theory by cutting the tails off mice, demonstrating that the injury was not passed on to the offspring. Jews and other religious groups have been circumcising men for hundreds of generations with no noticeable withering of the foreskin among their descendants. However, Lamarck did not count injury or mutilation as a true acquired characteristic, only those which were initiated by the animal's own needs were deemed to be passed on.

Nowadays, the idea of passing on to offspring characteristics that were acquired during an organism's lifetime is called Lamarckian. This view was, until very recently, thought to be completely inconsistent with modern genetics, but recent discoveries, as discussed in the article on epigenetic inheritance, show that this is not quite the case. So there may be room for some sort of Lamarckian evolution after all. Another contemporary view is that memetic ideas of cultural evolution could be considered a form of Lamarckian inheritance of non-genetic traits.

Darwin not only praised Lamarck in the third edition of The Origin of Species for supporting the concept of evolution and bringing it to the attention of others, but also accepted the idea of use and disuse, and developed his theory of pangenesis partially to explain its apparent occurrence. Darwin and many contemporaries also believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics, an idea that was much more plausible before the discovery of the cellular mechanisms for genetic transmission. (Darwin, incidentally, acknowledged his theory would remain somewhat incomplete if the mechanism for inheritance could not be discovered.)

In botany, his auctorial abbreviation is Lam.

See also: Trofim Lysenko

¹ For a discussion of linguistic priority, see History of the word Biology.

External links


'"/>


(Date:7/23/2014)... Honey bees, especially the young, are highly sensitive to ... to maintain temperatures within a narrow range. Recently published ... Tufts University,s School of Arts and Sciences, is the ... within a hive in process similar to how humans ... and skin. , "This study shows how workers ...
(Date:7/23/2014)... Popeye super strength, but it also holds the promise ... the ability to convert sunlight into a clean, efficient ... an international group using spinach to study the proteins ... the sun,s energy into carbohydrates used to power cellular ... the most efficient system ever built, capable of converting ...
(Date:7/23/2014)... the world have no access to clean drinking water. ... people die from water-related diseases every year. ETH student ... contribution to solving this problem. Working with researchers from ... Functional Materials Laboratory, the 23-year-old spent a year researching ... makes our DrinkPure filter unique is that you can ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):How honey bees stay cool 2Spinach could lead to alternative energy more powerful than Popeye 2ETH student develops filter for clean water around the world 2
... at the Commerce Department,s National Institute of Standards ... on a process for manufacturing integrated circuits at ... used it to develop a method for engineering ... three-dimensional surfaces. As described in a ...
... 2009] Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet (KI) ... and parietal parts, to increase the understanding of the capacity ... neurons in the brain interact. One of the findings they ... the brain,s neuronal network that restricts the number of items ...
... help people who are not responding to Anti-Retroviral Therapy, ... of Immunology . Scientists looking at monkeys with the ... virus levels in the blood to undetectable levels, by ... Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART). Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) is ...
Cached Biology News:NIST-Cornell team builds world's first nanofluidic device with complex 3-D surfaces 2NIST-Cornell team builds world's first nanofluidic device with complex 3-D surfaces 3NIST-Cornell team builds world's first nanofluidic device with complex 3-D surfaces 4Computer simulations explain the limitations of working memory 2Potential new HIV drug may help patients not responding to treatment 2Potential new HIV drug may help patients not responding to treatment 3
Other biology definitionOther Tags