Comments: After over five blank years, I finally got an abbreviated (by the last sentence) version of the following letter published in The Guardian, and it led to published responses.
Your front-page article on epigenetic inheritance (Holocaust trauma led to changes in genes – study, 22 August), does not mention the name Lamarck, despite being an example of Lamarckian inheritance, which neo-Darwinists have vehemently denied for over a century. When Lamarckian inheritance is discovered to be the principal driver of evolution, will the name of its most famous exponent still be vilified? Hugh Dower
The title of your report on epigenetics (Holocaust trauma led to changes in genes – study, 22 August) certainly fooled Hugh Dower (Letters, 23 August). Epigenetic factors do not change genes but do influence gene expression. The best evidence is that such influences only last two or three generations so do not lead to permanent changes of the kind Lamarck predicted.
What Richard Gilyead (Letters, 25 August) does not seem able to project to is what would happen if an environmental effect was sustained through many generations for a group of a species, which is what Lamarck envisaged. What Lamarck could not have known was that his ‘use and disuse’ is of genes rather than organs. Hugh Dower
The exchange of views on epigenetics (Letters, passim) must be causing some turning in graves: Lamarck hearing that maybe he was on the right track, Darwin thinking that maybe he was too exclusive and Trofim Lysenko with maybe a wry smile. Lysenko, by using Lamarckian ideas, destroyed Soviet genetics research between 1937-64. Stalin praised him and Khrushchev supported him, but Andrei Sakharov, with Zhores Medvedev, finally had him removed. The communist party aim at the time was to create the “New Soviet Man”. Lysenko’s philosophy involving the use of environmental influences on heredity fitted their dogma. As a result, hundreds of Soviet geneticists were dismissed, including Nikolai Vavilov, then one of the world’s leading plant breeders, who died in prison. The period was one of the most bizarre, and saddest, chapters in the history of science. Possibly now, epigenetics or neo-Lamarckism may be actually extending Darwinism, in a totally unexpected direction.
Dr Bruce Vivash Jones
Comments: The following continuation letter was not published.
Darwin himself would have no reason to think he was too exclusive (Letters, 28 August), since he increasingly relied on Lamarckian inheritance right up to his death. The people who should be turning in their graves are August Weismann, for causing Darwinism to be censored, and R.A.Fisher and J.S.Huxley, for creating the “Modern Synthesis”. As for being unexpected, there are people, such as Rupert Sheldrake and myself, for whom the return to “Darwinism as Darwin intended it” has been, like evolution itself, a slow process. Hugh Dower
Comments: The following letter to The Guardian was not published.
As hinted at by Julian Baggini (The good news from Homo naledi, 12 September), the problem with archaeologists, palaeontologists and anthropologists is that they are over-enthusiastic about inventing new Linnaean Latin names. I have no objection to people referring to Neanderthals, Denisovans, Floresians and even Heidelbergensians, as branches of the family tree, but to give them all different Latin names, denoting separate species, is both premature and inappropriate, especially since it is now established that Neanderthals bred with immigrant homos. As far as I am concerned, there has only ever been one homo, and Naledians and Handymen could easily have been Australopithecines. Hugh Dower
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