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Isis. 1999 Jun;90(2):238-67.

Hugo de Vries on heredity, 1889-1903. Statistics, Mendelian laws, pangenes, mutations.

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  • 1Department for the History, Philosophy, and Social Aspects of Science, Faculty of the Exact Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


The essay describes the development of Hugo de Vries's thinking on heredity from the publication of his Intracellulare Pangenesis in 1889 to the publication of Die Mutations-theorie, Volume 2, in 1903. De Vries's work in the 1890s can be characterized as an attempt to defend his theory of pangenes, especially the fundamental and controversial idea that different characters have different material hereditary carriers. Hybridization experiments served his goal. Recently discovered research notes on hybridization from 1896 suggest that, though he was unaware of Mendel's work, De Vries used the laws of dominance and recessiveness, segregation, and independent assortment to explain the 75:25 ratio in the second generation. He had discovered these laws by applying insights from probability theory to his research. In Die Mutationstheorie De Vries combined central concepts of intracellular pangenesis and his mutation theory by modifying the meanings of important terms and introducing new states of pangenes. In his attempts to describe Mendelian crossings in terms of pangenes and mutations, he became entangled in a number of contradictions. Some of his remarks suggest that he was aware that the Mendelian laws and his own theories of pangenes and mutations could not be made consistent.

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