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J Hered. 2000 Nov-Dec;91(6):435-40.

Erwin Baur or Carl Correns: who really created the theory of plastid inheritance?

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  • 1Institute of Genetics, Martin-Luther-University, Halle/Saale, Germany.


Historical reviews of the field of non-Mendelian genetics and many other publications credit Erwin Baur and Carl Correns equally for the development of the theory of plastid inheritance. However, a study of the original literature indicates that this conclusion is not correct. Analysis of the relevant articles leads to the conclusion that Baur alone deserves credit for the theory of plastid inheritance. In his classic article on the inheritance properties of white-margined Pelargonium plants, Baur (1909) stated: (1) The plastids are carriers of hereditary factors which are able to mutate. (2) In variegated plants, random sorting-out of plastids is taking place. (3) The genetic results indicate a biparental inheritance of plastids by egg cells and sperm cells in Pelargonium. By contrast, Correns held the view that in variegated plants there is a maternally transmitted labile state of the cytoplasm which switches either to a permanently "healthy" state (allowing the "indifferent" plastids to become green chloroplasts) or to a permanently "diseased, ill" cytoplasmic state (causing white plastids and cells). Otto Renner supported Baur's theory and worked out important characteristics of plastid inheritance in the genus Oenothera. In the 1930s Renner reported many more observations, which established plastid inheritance as a widely accepted genetic theory.

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