Lamarckism  

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"Dmitri Belyaev [was] a Soviet scientist who had been demoted in 1948 for his belief in Mendelian genetics. (Soviet morality required the belief that traits acquired during one’s lifetime could be passed on to one’s children. This is known as Lamarckism. Darwin believed it too, erroneously. Lamarckism was helpful to a dictatorship bent on producing a new breed of human being, Soviet Man. Trofim Lysenko was the preferred biologist, rather than Mendel." --The Righteous Mind (2012) by Jonathan Haidt

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Lamarckism (or Lamarckian inheritance) is the hypothesis that an organism can pass on characteristics that it has acquired through use or disuse during its lifetime to its offspring. It is also known as the inheritance of acquired characteristics or soft inheritance. It is inaccurately named after the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829), who incorporated the action of soft inheritance into his evolutionary theories as a supplement to his concept of orthogenesis, a drive towards complexity. The theory is cited in textbooks to contrast with Darwinism. This paints a false picture of the history of biology, as Lamarck did not originate the idea of soft inheritance, which was known from the classical era onwards, and it was not the primary focus of Lamarck's theory of evolution. Further, in On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin supported the idea of "use and disuse inheritance", though rejecting other aspects of Lamarck's theory; and his pangenesis theory implied soft inheritance.

Many researchers from the 1860s onwards attempted to find evidence for the theory, but these have all been explained away either by other mechanisms such as genetic contamination, or as fraud. On the other hand, August Weismann's experiment is now considered to have failed to disprove Lamarckism as it did not address use and disuse. Later, Mendelian genetics supplanted the notion of inheritance of acquired traits, eventually leading to the development of the modern synthesis, and the general abandonment of Lamarckism in biology. Despite this, interest in Lamarckism has continued.

Studies in the field of epigenetics, genetics and somatic hypermutation have highlighted the possible inheritance of traits acquired by the previous generation. The characterization of these findings as Lamarckism has been disputed. The inheritance of the hologenome, consisting of the genomes of all an organism's symbiotic microbes as well as its own genome, is also somewhat Lamarckian in effect, though entirely Darwinian in its mechanisms.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lamarckism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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