Nature Genetics | Free Association

Cropping and editing: crediting

Dr Raju Govindaraju takes me to task for skipping from 1906 to 1919 without crediting the advances in genetics from the field of plant breeding. It is a fascinating history deserving of books rather than just a paragraph in an editorial. I thank him for his comments:

“I congratulate you on your Editorial titled, “In praise of maize.” (Nature Genetics 42: 1031). It is heartening to note that Nature Genetics is finally taking a look at other organisms and questions (in addition to human GWAS!) that also throw light on human genetics and health.

I would like to make the following remarks on your editorial:

1. Although the title rhymes well…perhaps “In praise of crops,” or plants (Arabidopsis or yeast or other plants are not crops) or something similar would have been more appropriate.

2. The sentence “The discipline (i.e., the science of genetics – I suppose) ….current genetic methods…” is misleading as it glosses over many important points, and gives the impression all of that happened only after 1919.

a. The big intellectual boost for genetics came in the 1910’s using plants are: Inbreeding and hybrid corn (East, Shull, Jones); pure line theory, gene, genotype, phenotype (Beans; Wilhelm Johanssen); size inheritance (Tobacco; East); size and shape in plants (Emerson); wheat color (Nilsson Ehle) etc.

Fisher’s monumental work of 1918 was the predecessor of his 1925 work. The latter introduced “how to do experiments” with replication, randomization and local control. Harvard awarded him an honorary degree citing this work. In other words, “the big boost” happened prior to 1919. Only “Modern Synthesis” happened following Fisher’s 1925 work in the early 30’s (Fisher, Haldane and Wright and others later)c. Rothamstead’s focus on maize research was minimal. They focused largely on the application of fertilizers and crop yields.

Thank you for your interest.


D.R. Govindaraju"


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