Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

XIV
EXPERIMENTAL STUDY OF THE INFLUENCE OF ENVIRONMENT ON ANIMALS

BY JACQUES LOEB, M.D.

Professor of Physiology in the University of California.


I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

WHAT the biologist calls the natural environment of an animal is from a physical point of view a rather rigid combination of definite forces. It is obvious that by a purposeful and systematic variation of these and by the application of other forces in the laboratory, results must be obtainable which do not appear in the natural environment. This is the reasoning underlying the modern development of the study of the effects of environment upon animal life. It was perhaps not the least important of Darwin's services to science that the boldness of his conceptions gave to the experimental biologist courage to enter upon the attempt of controlling at will the life- phenomena of animals, and of bringing about effects which cannot be expected in Nature.

The systematic physico-chemical analysis of the effect of outside forces upon the form and reactions of animals is also our only means of unravelling the mechanism of heredity beyond the scope of the Mendelian law. The manner in which a germ-cell can force upon the adult certain characters will not be understood until we succeed in varying and controlling hereditary characteristics; and this can only be accomplished on the basis of a systematic study of the effects of chemical and physical forces upon living matter.

Owing to limitation of space this sketch is necessarily very incomplete, and it must not be inferred that studies which are not mentioned here were considered to be of minor importance. All the writer could hope to do was to bring together a few instances of the experimental analysis of the effect of environment, which indicate the nature and extent of our control over life-phenomena and which also have some relation to the work of Darwin. In the selection of these instances preference is given to those problems which are not too technical for the general reader.

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