Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

VIII
DE VRIES PRIMROSES AND MUTATIONS

The origin of species is a natural phenomenon.

-- LAMARCK

The origin of species is an object of inquiry.

-- DARWIN

The origin of species is an object of experimental investigation.

-- DE VRIES1

ADEEPLY TROUBLESOME PROBLEM kept turning over and over in the mind of a young Dutch botanist. He was full of respect, even veneration, for "the unsurpassed genius" of Darwin. In his judgment there was no doubt whatsoever that Darwin was right in his main thesis that "descent with modification is the main law of nature in the organic world."

But how did the modification come about? Exclusively through the action of natural selection on an infinitude of small changes, as the Darwinians of his day insisted?

To the Dutch botanist this seemed to contradict what he saw about him. Plant-breeders were able to make only small improvements by selecting the sweetest sugar beets, the fullest ears of corn, the blackest tulips; they could not produce new species in this way. New species were developed only when some new and different character cropped up in nature to give the breeders fresh material with which to work.

The young botanist suspected that such new material originated in certain sudden changes, in "sports," or mutations, as

____________________
1
Quoted on the flyleaf of De Vries book Species and Varieties.

-130-

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