William Ernest Castle, American geneticist : a case-study in the impact of the Mendelian research program Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/h702q904v

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  • In their modern context questions of heredity have come to be closely aligned with theories of evolution because all such theories require the presence of heritable variation. Thus the need for an understanding of a source of variation and a mechanism for its inheritance became very apparent with the general acceptance of organic evolution among biologists in the 1870's. Yet no one theory of evolution or of heredity became generally accepted until the modern synthesis of the 1930's. This thesis addresses the question of how this modern synthetic theory gained widespread acceptance and seeks to answer it by studying the development of a theory of heredity both before and after the rediscovery of Mendel ca. 1900. Those factors making possible the rediscovery in terms of the developments in heredity and evolution are treated as a background for the reception of Mendel. Theories discussed include those of Charles Darwin, August Weismann, Hugo de Vries and the American neo- Lamarckians. These theories also serve as a background against which to see the life and work of William Ernest Castle. This man was trained during the 1890's, receiving his Ph.D. under E.L. Mark at Harvard. In 1900 he became one of the very first to begin Mendelian experiments on animal material, working with small animals. Castle's life and work extended into the second half of the twentieth century and his career, therefore, reveals much of the development of genetics in the United States. Thus his work serves as a focus for an understanding of the impact of the Mendelian research program on the biological community. Castle was important as a popularizer of Mendeliam, as a theoretician of sex-heredity, and as a mammalian geneticist. In addition, he did much to shape American genetics by his training of twenty Ph.D. geneticists at Harvard. The work of William Castle also included a lengthy series of selection experiments which served to elucidate the function of selection in evolution. The controversies generated by these experiments were very influential in leading many Mendelians to become Darwinian evolutionists and thus stand as a milepost in the development of the modern synthetic theory of evolution. Castle's position in history has been very tenuous because he was perceived as "wrong" in a number of controversies. But his work elaborated and clarified important principles of modern genetic and evolutionary theory. This thesis stands as a contribution to an understanding of the development of these theories by its focus on the work of William Castle.
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