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Why didn't Darwin discover Mendel's laws?
Date:2/27/2009

Mendel solved the logic of inheritance in his monastery garden with no more technology than Darwin had in his garden at Down House. So why couldn't Darwin have done it too? A Journal of Biology article argues that Darwin's background, influences and research focus gave him a viewpoint that prevented him from interpreting the evidence that was all around him, even in his own work.

Darwin's commitment to quantitative variation as the raw material of evolution meant he could not see the logic of inheritance, argues Jonathan Howard of the University of Cologne, Germany.

"Quantitative variation was at the heart of Darwin's evolution, and quantitative variation is the last place where clean Mendelian inheritance can be seen," says Howard. "Darwin boxed himself in, unable to see the laws of inheritance in continuous variation, unable to see the real importance of discontinuous variation where the laws of inheritance could be discerned."

Moravian priest and scientist Gregor Mendel (1822 - 1884) studied clear-cut, inherited traits in pea plants, which he grew in the monastery gardens in Brno. Mendel showed that trait inheritance follow simple laws, which were later named after him. Mendel's work was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century, and laid the foundations for genetics. Mendel had a good understanding of biology, but his understanding of physics, statistics and probability theory were far superior to Darwin's.

Darwin's view of biology was greatly influenced by geologist Charles Lyell during and after the 1831-1836 Beagle voyage, leading to Darwin's focus on infinitely tiny differences between individuals giving infinitesimal advantages or disadvantages in survival. For Darwin, selection of these variants over hundreds of thousands of generations was the critical process in evolution.

Darwin's book The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species details breeding experiments involving a w
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Contact: Charlotte Webber
charlotte.webber@biomedcentral.com
44-020-763-19980
BioMed Central
Source:Eurekalert

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