Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/October 1911/Genetics
By W. BATESON, M.A., F.R.S.
THE invitation to preside over the agricultural sub-section on this occasion naturally gave me great pleasure, but after accepting it I have felt embarrassment in a considerable degree. The motto of the great society which has been responsible for so much progress in agricultural affairs in this country very clearly expresses the subject of our deliberations in the words "Practise with Science" and to be competent to address you, a man should be well conversant with both. But even if agriculture is allowed to include horticulture, as may perhaps be generally conceded, I am sadly conscious that my special qualifications are much weaker than you have a right to demand of a president.
The aspects of agriculture from which it offers hopeful lines for scientific attack are, in the main, three: Physiological, pathological and genetic. All are closely interrelated, and for successful dealing with the problems of any one of these departments of research, knowledge of the results attained in the others is now almost indispensable. I myself can claim personal acquaintance with the third or genetic group alone, and therefore in considering how science is to be applied to the practical operations of agriculture, I must necessarily choose it as the more special subject of this address. I know very well that wider experience of those other branches of agricultural science or practical agriculture would give to my remarks a weight to which they can not now pretend.
Before, however, proceeding to these topics of special consideration, I have thought it not unfitting to say something of a more general nature as to the scope of an applied science, such as that to which we here are devoted. We are witnessing a very remarkable outburst of activity in the promotion of science in its application to agriculture. Public bodies distributed throughout this country and our possessions are organizing various enterprises with that object. Agricultural research is now everywhere admitted a proper subject for university support and direction.
With the institution of the development grant a national subsidy is provided on a considerable scale in England for the first time.
At such a moment the scope of this applied science and the conditions under which it may most successfully be advanced are prominent matters of consideration in the minds of most of us. We hope great things from these new ventures. We are, however, by no means the first to embark upon them. Many of the other great nations have already made enormous efforts in the same direction. We have their experience for a guide.
Now, it is not in dispute that wherever agricultural science has been properly organized valuable results have been attained, some of very high importance indeed; yet with full appreciation of these achievements, it is possible to ask whether the whole outcome might not have been greater still. In the course of recent years I have come a good deal into contact with those who in various countries are taking part in such work, and I have been struck with the unanimity that they have shown in their comments on the conditions imposed upon them. Those who receive large numbers of agriculture bulletins purporting to give the results of practical trials and researches will, I feel sure, agree with me that with certain notable exceptions they form on the whole dull reading. True they are in many cases written for farmers and growers in special districts, rather than for the general scientific reader, but I have sometimes asked myself whether those farmers get much more out of this literature than I do. I doubt it greatly. Nevertheless, to the production of these things much labor and expense have been devoted. I am sure, and I believe that most of those engaged in these productions themselves feel, that the effort might have been much better applied elsewhere. Work of this unnecessary kind is done, of course, to satisfy a public opinion which is supposed to demand rapid returns for outlay, and to prefer immediate apparent results, however trivial, to the long delay which is the almost inevitable accompaniment of any serious production. For my own part, I greatly doubt whether in this estimate present public opinion has been rightly gauged. Enlightenment as to the objects, methods and conditions of scientific research is proceeding at a rapid rate. I am quite sure, for example, that no organization of agricultural research now to be inaugurated under the Development Commission will be subjected to the conditions laid down in 1887 when the experimental stations of the United States were established. From them it is decreed in Sec. 4 of the Act of Establishment:
That bulletins or reports of progress shall be published at said stations at least once in three months, one copy of which shall be sent to each newspaper in the states or territories in which they are respectively located, and to such individuals actually engaged in farming as may request the same and as far as the means of the station will permit.
It would be difficult to draft a condition more unfavorable to the primary purpose of the Act, which was "to conduct original researches or verify experiments on the physiology of plants and animals." I can scarcely suppose the most prolific discoverer should be invited to deliver himself more than once a year. Not only does such a rule compel premature publication—that nuisance of modern scientific life—but it puts the investigator into a wrong attitude towards his work. He will do best if he forget the public and the newspaper of his state or territory for long periods, and should only return to them when, after repeated verification, he is quite certain he has something to report.
In this I am sure the best scientific opinion of all countries would be agreed. If it is true that the public really demand continual scraps of results, and can not trust the investigators to pursue research in a reasonable way, then the public should be plainly given to understand that the time for inaugurating researches in the public's name has not arrived. Men of science have in some degree themselves to blame if the outer world has been in any mistake on these points. It can not be too widely known that in all sciences, whether pure or applied, research is nearly always a very slow process, uncertain in production, and full of disappointments. This is true, even in the new industries, chemical and electrical, for instance, where the whole industry has been built up from the beginning on a basis developed entirely by scientific method and by the accumulation of precise knowledge. Much more must any material advance be slow in the case of an ancient art like agriculture, where practise represents the casual experience of untold ages and accurate investigation is of yesterday. Problems moreover relating to unorganized matter are in their nature simpler than those concerned with the properties of living things, a region in which accurate knowledge is more difficult to attain. Here the research of the present day can aspire no higher than to lay the foundation on which the following generations will build. When this is realized it will at once be perceived that both those who are engaged in agricultural research and those who are charged with the supervision and control of these researches must be prepared to exercise a large measure of patience.
The applicable science must be created before it can be applied. It is with the discovery and development of such science that agricultural research will for long enough best occupy its energies. Sometimes, truly, there come moments when a series of obvious improvements in practise can at once be introduced, but this happens only when the penetrative genius of a Pasteur or a Mendel has worked out the way into a new region of knowledge, and returns with a treasure that all can use. Given the knowledge it will soon enough become applied.
I am not advocating work in the clouds. In all that is attempted we must stick near to the facts. Though the methods of research and of thought must be strict and academic, it is in the farm and the garden that they must be applied. If inspiration is to be found anywhere it will be there. The investigator will do well to work
As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot.
It is only in the closest familiarity with phenomena that we can attain to that perception of their orderly relations, which is the beginning of discovery.
To the creation of applicable science the very highest gifts and training are well devoted. In a foreign country an eminent man of science was speaking to me of a common friend, and he said that as our friend's qualifications were not of the first rank he would have to join the agricultural side of the university. I have heard remarks of similar disparagement at home. Now, whether from the standpoint of agriculture or pure science, I can imagine no policy more stupid and shortsighted.
The man who devotes his life to applied science should be made to feel that he is in the main stream of scientific progress. If he is not, both his work and science at large will suffer. The opportunities of discovery are so few that we can not afford to miss any, and it is to the man of trained mind who is in contact with the phenomena of a great applied science that such opportunities are most often given. Through his hands pass precious material, the outcome sometimes of years of effort and design. To tell him that he must not pursue that inquiry further because he can not foresee a direct and immediate application of the knowledge he would acquire, is, I believe almost always, a course detrimental to the real interests of the applied science. I could name specific instances where in other countries thoroughly competent and zealous investigators have by the shortsightedness of superior officials been thus debarred from following to their conclusion researches of great value and novelty.
In this country where the Development Commission will presumably for many years be the main instigator and controller of agricultural research, the constitution of the advisory board, on which science is largely represented, forms a guarantee that broader counsels will prevail, and it is to be hoped that not merely this inception of the work, but its future administration also will be guided in the same spirit. So long as a train of inquiry continues to extend, and new knowledge, that most precious commodity, is coming in the enterprise will not be in vain and it will be usually worth while to pursue it.
The relative value of the different parts of knowledge in their application to industry is almost impossible to estimate, and a line of work should not be abandoned until it leads to a dead end, or is lost in a desert of detail.
We have, not only abroad, but also happily in this country, several private firms engaged in various industries—I may mention especially metallurgy, pharmacy and brewing—who have set an admirable example in this matter, instituting researches of a costly and elaborate nature, practically unlimited in scope, connected with the subjects of their several activities, conscious that it is only by men in close touch with the operations of the industry that the discoveries can be made, and well assured that they themselves will not go unrewarded.
Let us on our part beware of giving false hopes. We know no hæmony "of sovran use against all enchantments, mildew blast, or damp." Those who are wise among us do not even seek it yet. Why should we not take the farmer and gardener into our fullest confidence and tell them this? I read lately a newspaper interview with a fruit-farmer who was being questioned as to the success of his undertaking, and spoke of the pests and difficulties with which he had had to contend. He was asked whether the Board of Agriculture and the scientific authorities were not able to help him. He replied that they had done what they could, that they had recommended first one thing and then another, and he had formed the opinion that they were only in an experimental stage. He was perfectly right, and he would hardly have been wrong had he said that in these things science is only approaching the experimental stage. This should be notorious. There is nothing to extenuate. To affect otherwise would be unworthy of the dignity of science.
Those who have the means of informing the public mind on the state of agricultural science should make clear that though something can be done to help the practical man already, the chief realization of the hopes of that science is still very far away, and that it can only be reached by long and strenuous effort, expended in many various directions, most of which must seem to the uninitiated mere profitless wandering. So only will the confidence of the laity be permanently assured towards research.
Nowhere is the need for wide views of our problems more evident than in the study of plant-diseases. Hitherto this side of agriculture and of horticulture, though full of possibilities for the introduction of scientific method, has been examined only in the crudest and most empirical fashion. To name the disease, to burn the affected plants and to ply the crop with all the sprays and washes in succession ought not to be regarded as the utmost that science can attempt. There is at the present time hardly any comprehensive study of the morbid physiology of plants comparable with that which has been so greatly developed in application to animals. The nature of the resistance to disease characteristic of so many varieties, and the modes by which it may be ensured, offers a most attractive field for research, but it is one in which the advance must be made by the development of pure science, and those who engage in it must be prepared for a long period of labor without ostensible practical results. It has seemed to me that the most likely method of attack is here, as often, an indirect one. We should probably do best if we left the direct and special needs of agriculture for a time out of account, and enlisted the services of pathologists trained in the study of disease as it affects man and animals, a science already developed and far advanced towards success. Such a man, if he were to devote himself to the investigation of the same problems in the case of plants could, I am convinced, make discoveries which would not merely advance the theory of disease-resistance in general very greatly, but would much promote the invention of rational and successful treatment.
As regards the application of genetics to practise, the case is not very different. When I go to the Temple Show or to a great exhibition of live stock, my first feeling is one of admiration and deep humility. Where all is so splendidly done and results so imposing are already attained, is it not mere impertinence to suppose that any advice we are able to give is likely to be of value?
But as soon as one enters into conversation with breeders, one finds that almost all have before them some ideal to which they have not yet attained, operations to perform that they would fain do with greater ease and certainty, and that as a matter of fact, they are looking to scientific research as a possible source of the greater knowledge which they require. Can we, without presumption, declare that genetic science is now able to assist these inquirers? In certain selected cases it undoubtedly can—and I will say, moreover, that if the practical men and we students could combine our respective experiences into one head, these cases would already be numerous. On the other hand, it is equally clear that in a great range of examples practise is so far ahead that science can scarcely hope in finite time even to represent what has been done, still less to better the performance. We can not hope to improve the Southdown sheep for its own districts, to take a second off the trotting record, to increase the flavor of the muscat of Alexandria, or to excel the orange and pink of the rose Juliet. Nothing that we know could have made it easier to produce the Rambler roses, or even to evoke the latest novelties in sweet peas, though it may claimed that the genetic system of the sweet pea is, as things go, fairly well understood. To do any of these things would require a control of events so lawless and rare that for ages they must probably remain classed as accidents. On the other hand, the modes by which combinations can be made, and by which new forms can be fixed, are through Mendelian analysis and the recent developments of genetic science now reasonably clear, and with that knowledge much of the breeder's work is greatly simplified. This part of the subject is so well understood that I need scarcely do more than allude to it.
A simple and interesting example is furnished by the work which Mr. H. M. Leake is carrying out in the case of cotton in India. The cottons of fine quality grown in India are monopodial in habit, and are consequently late in flowering. In the United Provinces a comparatively early-flowering form is required, as otherwise there is not time for the fruits to ripen. The early varieties are sympodial in habit, and the primary apex does not become a flower. Hitherto no sympodial form with cotton of high quality has existed, but Mr. Leake has now made the combination needed, and has fixed a variety with high-class cotton and the sympodial habit, which is suitable for cultivation in the United Provinces. Until genetic physiology was developed by Mendelian analysis, it is safe to say that a practical achievement of this kind could not have been made with rapidity or certainty. The research was planned on broad lines. In the course of it much light was obtained on the genetics of cotton, and features of interest were discovered which considerably advance our knowledge of heredity in several important respects. This work forms an admirable illustration of that simultaneous progress both towards the solution of a complex physiological problem and also towards the successful attainment of an economic object which should be the constant aim of agricultural research.
Necessarily it follows that such assistance as genetics can at present give is applicable more to the case of plants and animals which can be treated as annuals than to creatures of slower generation. Yet this already is a large area of operations. One of the greatest advances to be claimed for the work is that it should induce raisers of seed crops especially to take more hopeful views of their absolute purification than have hitherto prevailed. It is at present accepted as part of the natural perversity of things that most high-class seed crops must throw "rogues," or that at the best the elimination of these waste plants can only be attained by great labor extended over a vast period of time. Conceivably that view is correct, but no one acquainted with modern genetic science can believe it without most cogent proof. Far more probably we should regard these rogues either as the product of a few definite individuals in the crop, or even as chance impurities brought in by accidental mixture. In either case they can presumably be got rid of. I may even go further and express a doubt whether that degeneration which is vaguely, supposed to be attendant on all seed crops is a physiological reality. Degeneration may perhaps affect plants like the potato which are continually multiplied asexually, though the fact has never been proved satisfactorily. Moreover it is not in question that races of plants taken into unsuitable climates do degenerate rapidly from uncertain causes, but that is quite another matter.
The first question is to determine whether a given rogue has in it any factor which is dominant to the corresponding character in the typical plants of the crop. If it has, then we may feel considerable confidence that these rogues have been introduced by accidental mixture. The only alternative, indeed, is cross-fertilization with some distinct variety possessing the dominant, or crossing within the limits of the typical plants themselves occurring in such a way that complementary factors have been brought together. This last is a comparatively infrequent phenomenon, and need not be considered till more probable hypotheses have been disposed of. If the rogues are first crosses the fact can be immediately proved by sowing their seeds, for segregation will then be evident. For example, a truly round seed is occasionally, though very rarely, found on varieties of pea which have wrinkled seeds. I have three times seen such seeds on my own plants. A few more were kindly given me by Mr. Arthur Sutton, and I have also received a few from M. Philippe de Vilmorin—to both of whom I am indebted for most helpful assistance and advice. Of these abnormal or unexpected seeds some died without germinating, but all which did germinate in due course produced the normal mixture of round and wrinkled, proving that a cross had occurred. Cross-fertilization in culinary peas is excessively rare, but it is certainly sometimes effected, doubtless by the leaf-cutter bee (Megachile) or a humble-bee visiting flowers in which for some reason the pollen has been inoperative. But in peas crossing is assuredly not the source of the ordinary rogues. These plants have a very peculiar conformation, being tall and straggling, with long internodes, small leaves and small flowers, which together give them a curious wild look. When one compares them with the typical cultivated plants which have a more luxuriant habit, it seems difficult to suppose that the rogue can really be recessive in such a type. True, we can not say definitely a priori that any one character is dominant to another, but old preconceptions are so strong that without actual evidence we always incline to think of the wilder and more primitive characteristics as dominants. Nevertheless, from such observations as I have been able to make I can not find any valid reason for doubting that the rogues are really recessives to the type. One feature in particular is quite inconsistent with the belief that these rogues are in any proper sense degenerative returns to a wild type, for in several examples the rogues have pointed pods like the cultivated sorts from which they have presumably been derived. All the more primitive kinds have the dominant stump-ended pod. If the rogues had the stump pods they would fall in the class of dominants, but they have no single quality which can be declared to be certainly dominant to the type, and I see no reason why they may not be actually recessives to it after all. Whether this is the true account or not we shall know for certain next year. Mr. Sutton has given me a quantity of material which we are now investigating at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, and by sowing the seed of a great number of individual plants separately I anticipate that we shall prove the rogue-throwers to be a class apart. The pure types then separately saved should, according to expectation, remain rogue-free, unless further sporting or fresh contamination occurs. If it prove that the long and attenuated rogues are really recessive to the shorter and more robust type, the case will be one of much physiological significance, but I believe a parallel already exists in the case of wheats, for among certain crosses bred by Professor Biffen, some curious spelt-like plants occurred among the derivatives from such robust wheats as Rivet and Red Fife.
There is another large and important class of cases to which similar considerations apply. I refer to the bolting or running to seed of crops grown as biennials, especially root crops. It has hitherto been universally supposed that the loss due to this cause, amounting in sugar beet as it frequently does to five, or even more, per cent., is not preventable. This may prove to be the truth, but I think it is not impossible that the bolters can be wholly, or almost wholly, eliminated by the application of proper breeding methods. In this particular example I know that season and conditions of cultivation count for a good deal in promoting or checking the tendency to run to seed, nevertheless one can scarcely witness the sharp distinction between the annual and biennial forms without suspecting that genetic composition is largely responsible. If it proves to be so, we shall have another remarkable illustration of the direct applicability of knowledge gained from a purely academic source. "Let not him that putteth his armor on boast him as he that putteth it off," and I am quite alive to the many obstacles which may lie between the conception of an idea and its realization. One thing, however, is certain, that we have now the power to formulate rightly the question which the breeder is to put to nature; and this power and the whole apparatus by which he can obtain an answer to his question—in whatever sense that answer may be given—has been derived from experiments designed with the immediate object of investigating that scholastic and seemingly barren problem, "What is a species?" If Mendel's eight years' work had been done in agricultural school supported by public money, I can imagine much shaking of heads on the county council governing that institution, and yet it is no longer in dispute that he provided the one bit of solid discovery upon which all breeding practise will henceforth be based.
Everywhere the same need for accurate knowledge is apparent. I suppose horse-breeding is an art which has by the application of common sense and great experience been carried to about as high a point of perfection as any. Yet even here I have seen a mistake made which is obvious to any one accustomed to analytical breeding. Among a number of stallions provided at great expense to improve the breed of horses in a certain district was one which was shown me as something of a curiosity. This particular animal had been bred by one of the provided stallions out of an indifferent country mare. It had been kept as an unusually good-looking colt, and was now traveling the country as a breeding stallion, under the highest auspices. I thought to myself that if such a practise is sanctioned by breeding acumen and common sense, science is not after all so very ambitious if she aspires to do rather better. The breeder has continually to remind himself that it is not what the animal or plant looks that matters, but what it is. Analysis has taught us to realize, first, that each animal and plant is a double structure, and next that the appearance may show only half its composition.
With respect to the inheritance of many physiological qualities of divers kinds we have made at least a beginning of knowledge, but there is one class of phenomena as yet almost untouched. This is the miscellaneous group of attributes which are usually measured in terms of size, fertility, yield and the like. This group of characters has more than common significance to the practical man. Analysis of them can nevertheless only become possible when pure science has progressed far beyond the point yet reached.
I know few lines of pure research more attractive and at the same time more likely to lead to economic results than an investigation of the nature of variation in size of the whole organism or of its parts. By what factors is it caused? By what steps does it proceed? By what limitations is it beset? In illustration of the application of these questions I may refer to a variety of topics that have been lately brought to my notice. In the case of merino sheep I have been asked by an Australian breeder whether it is possible to combine the optimum length of wool with the optimum fineness and the right degree of crimping. I have to reply that absolutely nothing is yet known for certain as to the physiological factors determining the length or the fineness of wool. The crimping of the fibers is an expression of the fact that each particular hair is curved, and if free and untwisted would form a corkscrew spiral, but as to the genetics of curly hair even in man very little is yet known. But leaving the question of curl on one side, we have in regard to the length and fineness of wool, a problem which genetic experiment ought to be able to solve. Note that in it, as in almost all problems of the "yield" of any product of farm or garden, two distinct elements are concerned—the one is size, and the other is number. The length of the hair is determined by the rate of excretion and length of the period of activity of the hair follicles, but the fineness is determined by the number of follicles in unit area. Now analogy is never a safe guide, but I think if we had before us the results of really critical experiments on the genetics of size and number of multiple organs in any animal or even any plant, we might not wholly be at a loss in dealing with this important problem.
A somewhat similar question comes from South Africa. Is it possible to combine the qualities of a strain of ostriches which has extra long plumes with those of another strain which has its plumes extra lustrous? I have not been able fully to satisfy myself upon what the luster depends, but I incline to think it is an expression of fineness of fiber, which again is probably a consequence of the smallness and increased number of the excreting cells, somewhat as the fineness of wool is a consequence of the increased number and smallness of the excreting follicles.
Again the question arises in regard to flax, how should a strain be bred which shall combine the maximum length with maximum fineness of fiber? The element of number comes in here, not merely with regard to the number of fibers in a stem, but also in two other considerations, first, that the plant should not tiller at the base, and, secondly, that the decussation of the flowering branches should be postponed to the highest possible level.
Now in this problem of the flax, and not impossibly in the others I have named, we have questions winch can in all likelihood be solved in a form which will be of general, if not of universal, application to a host of other cognate questions. By good luck the required type of flax may be struck at once, in which case it may be fixed by ordinary Mendelian analysis, but if the problem is investigated by accurate methods on a large scale, the results may show the way into some of those general problems of size and number which make a great part of the fundamental mystery of growth.
I see no reason why these things should remain inscrutable. There is indeed a little light already. We are well acquainted with a few examples in which the genetic behavior of these properties is fairly definite. We have examples in which, when two varieties differing in number of divisions are crossed, the lower number dominates—or, in other words, that the increased number is a consequence of the removal of a factor which prevents or inhibits particular divisions, so that th do not take place. It is likely that in so far as the increased productivity of a domesticated form as compared with its wild original depends on more frequent division, the increase is due to loss of inhibiting factors. How far may this reasoning be extended? Again we know that in several plants—peas, sweet peas, Antirrhinum and certain wheats—a tall variety differs in that respect from a dwarf in possessing one more factor. It would be an extraordinarily valuable addition to knowledge if we could ascertain exactly how this factor operates, how much of its action is due to linear repetition, and how much to actual extension of individual parts. The analysis of the plants of intermediate size has never been property attempted, but would be full of interest and have innumerable bearings on other cases in animals and plants, some of much economic importance.
That in all such examples the objective phenomena we see are primarily the consequence of the interaction of genetic factors is almost certain. The lay mind is at first disposed, as always, to attribute such distinctions to anything rather than to a specific cause which is invisible. An appeal to differences in conditions—which a moment's reflection shows to be either imaginary or altogether independent—or to those vague influences invoked under the name of selection, silently postponing any laborious analysis of the nature of the material selected, repels curiosity for a time, and is lifted as a veil before the actual phenomena; and so even critical intelligences may for an indefinite time be satisfied that there is no specific problem to be investigated, in the same facile way that, till a few years ago, we were all content with the belief that malarial fevers could be referred to any damp exhalations in the atmosphere, or that in suppuration the body was discharging its natural humors. In the economics of breeding, a thousand such phenomena are similarly waiting for analysis and reference to their specific causes. What, for instance, is self-sterility? The phenomenon is very widely spread among plants, and is far commoner than most people suppose who have not specially looked for it. Why is it that the pollen of an individual in these plants fails to fertilize the ova of the same individual? Asexual multiplication seems in no way to affect the case. The American experimenters are doubtless right in attributing the failure of large plantations of a single variety of apples or of pears in a high degree to this cause. Sometimes, as Mr. W. O. Backhouse has found in his work on plums at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, the behavior of the varieties is most definite and specific. He carefully self-fertilized a number of varieties, excluding casual pollination, and found that while some sorts, for example, Victoria, Czar and Early Transparent set practically every fruit self-pollinated, others including several (perhaps all) Greengages, Early Orleans and Sultan do not set a single fruit without pollination from some other variety. Dr. Erwin Baur has found indications that self-sterility in Antirrhinum may be a Mendelian recessive, but whether this important suggestion be confirmed or not, the subject is worth the most minute study in all its bearings. The treatment of this problem well illustrates the proper scope of an applied science. The economic value of an exact determination of the empirical facts is obvious, but it should be the ambition of any one engaging in such a research to penetrate further. If we can grasp the rationale of self-sterility we open a new chapter in the study of life. It may contain the solution of the question, What is an individual?—no mere metaphysical conundrum, but a physiological problem of fundamental significance.
What, again, is the meaning of that wonderful increase in size or in "yield" which so often follows on a first cross? We are no longer content, as Victorian teleology was, to call it a "beneficial" effect and pass on. The fact has long been known and made use of in breeding stock for the meat market, and of late years the practise has also been introduced in raising table poultry. Mr. G. N. Collins, of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, has recently proposed with much reason that it might be applied in the case of maize. The cross is easy to make on a commercial scale, and the gain in yield is striking, the increase ranging as high as 95 per cent. These figures sound extravagant, but from what I have frequently seen in peas and sweet peas, I am prepared for even greater increase. But what is this increase? How much of it is due to change in number of parts, how much to transference of differentiation or homœosis, as I have called it—leaf-buds becoming flowerbuds, for instance—and how much to actual increase in size of parts? To answer these questions would be to make an addition to human knowledge of incalculably great significance.
Then we have the further question, How and why does the increase disappear in subsequent generations? The very uniformity of the cross-breds between pure strains must be taken as an indication that the phenomenon is orderly. Its subsidence is probably orderly also. Shull has advocated the most natural view that heterozygosis is the exciting cause, and that with the gradual return to the homozygous state the effects pass off. I quite think this may be a part of the explanation, but I feel difficulties, which need not here be detailed, in accepting this as a complete account. Some of the effect we may probably also attribute to the combination of complementary factors; but whether heterozygosis, or complementary action, is at work, our experience of cross-breeding in general makes it practically certain that genetic factors of special classes only can have these properties, and no pains should be spared in identifying them. It is not impossible that such identification would throw light on the nature of cell division and of that meristic process by which the repeated organs of living things are constituted, and I have much confidence that in the course of the analysis discoveries will be made bearing directly both on the general theory of heredity and on the practical industry of breeding.
In the application of science to the arts of agriculture, chemistry, the foundation of sciences, very properly and inevitably came first, while breeding remained under the unchallenged control of simple common sense alone. The science of genetics is so young that when we speak of what it also can do we must still for the most part ask for a long credit; but I think that if there is full cooperation between the practical breeder and the scientific experimenter, we shall be able to redeem our bonds at no remotely distant date. In the mysterious properties of the living bodies of plants and animals there is an engine capable of wonders scarcely yet suspected, waiting only for the constructive government of the human mind. Even in the seemingly rigorous tests and trials which have been applied to living material apparently homogeneous, it is not doubtful that error has often come in by reason of the individual genetic heterogeneity of the plants and animals chosen. A batch of fruit trees may be all of the same variety, but the stocks on which the variety was grafted have hitherto been almost always seminally distinct individuals, each with its own powers of luxuriance or restriction, their own root-systems and properties so diverse that only in experiments on a colossal scale can this diversity be supposed to be levelled down. Even in a closely bred strain of cattle, though all may agree in their "points," there may still be great genetic diversity in powers of assimilation and rapidity of attaining maturity, by which irregularities by no means negligible are introduced. The range of powers which organic variation and genetic composition can confer is so vast as to override great dissimilarities in the conditions of cultivation. This truth is familiar to every raiser and grower who knows it in the form that the first necessity is for him to get the right breed and the right variety for his work. If he has a wheat of poor yield, no amount of attention to cultivation or manuring will give a good crop. An animal that is a bad doer will remain so in the finest pasture. All praise and gratitude to the student of the conditions of life, for he can do, and has done, much for agriculture, but the breeder can do even more.
When more than fifteen years ago the proposal to found a school of agriculture in Cambridge was being debated, much was said of the importance of the chemistry of soils, of researches into the physiological value of food-stuffs, and of other matters then already prominent on the scientific horizon. I remember then interpolating with an appeal for some study of the physiology of breeding, which I urged should find a place in the curriculum, and I pointed out that the improvement in the strains of plants and animals had done at least as much—more, I really meant—to advance agriculture than had been accomplished by other means. My advice found little favor, and I was taken to task, afterwards, by a prominent advocate of the new school for raising a side issue. Breeding was a purely empirical affair. Common sense and selection comprised the whole business, and physiology flew at higher game. I am, nevertheless, happy now to reflect that of the work which is making the Cambridge School of Agriculture a force for progress in the agricultural world the remarkable researches and results of my late colleague, Professor Biffen, based as they have been on modern discoveries in the pure sciences of breeding, occupy a high and greatly honored place.
In conclusion I would sound once more the note with which I began. If we are to progress fast there must be no separation made between pure and applied science. The practical man with his wide knowledge of specific natural facts, and the scientific student ever seeking to find the hard general truths which the diversity of nature hides—truths out of which any lasting structure of progress must be built—have everything to gain from free interchange of experience and ideas. To ensure this community of purpose those who are engaged in scientific work should continually strive to make their aims and methods known at large, neither exaggerating their confidence nor concealing their misgivings,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.
- Address to the Agricultural Sub-section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Bureau of Plant Industry, Bulletin No. 191, 1910.