George Romanes, William Bateson, and Darwin's 'weak point'

D. R. Forsdyke
2009 Notes and Records: the Royal Society journal of the history of science  
Thomas Huxley identified as Darwin's 'weak point' the failure of breeders when crossing varieties within a species to simulate the sterility of hybrids derived from crosses between allied species. As a result of the sterility, the parents of a hybrid were, in an evolutionary sense, reproductively isolated from each other, so they would be members of distinct species. In his theory of 'physiological selection', Romanes postulated germline 'collective variations' that accumulate in certain
more » ... e in certain members of a species; these members are thus 'physiological complements' producing fertile offspring when mutually crossed, but sterile offspring when crossed with others. Unlike Darwin's natural selection, which secured reproductive isolation of the fit by elimination of the unfit, physiological selection postulated variations in the reproductive system that were not targets of natural selection; these sympatrically isolated the fit from the fit, leaving two species where initially there had been one. Bateson approved of physiological selection. He noted that Mendel's 'unit characters' were 'sensible manifestations' of what we now refer to as 'genes', but postulated a 'residue', distinct from genes, that might affect gene flow between organisms and so originate species. The reproductive isolation of the parents of a sterile hybrid was due to two complementing non-genic factors (the 'residue') separately introduced into the hybrid by each parent. Modern studies, especially of yeast hybrids, support the Romanes -Bateson viewpoint. Many organisms repeat the cycle adult -gametes -zygote -adult through the generations. When lineages diverge, this cycle is interrupted and two separate cycles result. The interruption-a potential origin of species-can occur at any stage of the cycle, either prezygotically when gametes meet to form a zygote, or postzygotically when the zygote * This article is based on an address entitled 'Bateson's contributions to evolutionary theory' delivered at
doi:10.1098/rsnr.2009.0045 fatcat:ek24kr4stjfb5ndibiplaiixfu