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The cause and adaptive characteristics of the evolution of living forms


, : The cause and adaptive characteristics of the evolution of living forms. Genus 27(1/4): 1-42

This paper has reviewed the various causes of the evolution of living forms: [influence of the external environment (physical and social) and of exercise on the characters of the individual; influence of the environment on the characters of the descendents (after effects); mutations; isolation; environmental, nuptial and reproductive selection; colonization], dealing in particular with the adaptive aspect of their effects. Three points have been especially emphasized: a) the fact that the current distinction between acquired and hereditary characteristics is deceiving in as much as it leads to the consideration as hereditary of characteristics which actually derive from a permanently common environment. Thus the so called Kaspar-Hauser experiments with newborns brought up in totally different surroundings than those normal for the species and particularly in conditions of isolation from other individuals of the same species, take on a decisive importance; b) the fact that the postulate of modern genetics, according to which the genes form the determining factors of the individual characters, does not represent the only possible hypothesis. A more plausible theory appears to be that the genes and individual characteristics are the manifestation of a common cause, the physico-chemical diathesis of the organism. Environmental influence brings about the modifications of this diathesis, which, if they reach a certain degree, are to be seen in alterations of characteristics of the organism (somatic variations) without however necessarily modifying the characters of the descendents. It is only when the influence is of a greater degree or persistent, that, apart from the alterations of the somatic cells, there can also be modifications in the cytoplasm of the germinal cells so that, through the mother, modifications of the characteristics of the descendents correspond to the somatic variations. The so called after effects which result, if damaging to the existence of the species, are eliminated by natural selection; if indifferent to it they may continue while the environment which produces them continues, but without being established in the heritage; if, finally, they are advantageous, natural selection will favor them and, altering the genes, they may become rooted in the heritage, leading to adaptive mutations which form the principal factor in the adaptive character of the evolution of living forms. The author recalls the theory that he advanced on this subject as long as 20 years ago (1940) and mentions the confirmation that it has received from the recent experiments of Waddington, Bateman, Hinshelwood, Sonneborg and David. In addition to explaining the relation to be observed between somatic variations, after effects and adaptive mutations, this theory helps to give an explanation of the transition, through colonization, of the monocellular units to the pluricellular which is the stumbling-block of the theories of evolution; c) the presence of mutations resulting from internal forces, probably with specific rhythms for the individual species, similar to the changes by internal forces which feature the individual development and to the disintegration which, with a rhythm which is constant for the individual bodies, is to be found in many inorganic bodies.

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