Lamarck on Genome Research (2004).

I came across this cover of the journal Genome Research from 2004.

Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic phenomenon where expression of a gene in this generation depends on whether it resided in a male or female the previous generation, a Lamarckian-like inheritance (portrait: Jean Baptiste Lamarck). Comparative phylogenetic footprint analysis of mammalian species from the nonimprinted monotremes (purple region) and the imprinted marsupials (magenta region) and eutherian mammals (pink region) was used to identify putative cis-acting elements (sequence shown) involved in the origins and evolutionary maintenance of genomic imprinting. Members of the oviparous monotremes (echidna and platypus) and viviparous marsupials (opossum) and eutherians (mouse, lemur, and human) are pictured.

It does not bother me that people want to rescue Lamarck’s reputation — he deserves vastly more respect than he currently gets for his major contributions to taxonomy and evolutionary biology. What bothers me is the effort to present anything remotely resembling the inheritance of acquired characters as Lamarckian. This is just bad history for several reasons, given that Lamarck rejected any direct input from the environment and that the inheritance of acquired traits was not original to Lamarck. It’s disappointing to see a journal fall for this in the same way that others have.

7 thoughts on “Lamarck on Genome Research (2004).

  1. Well, to be fair, Lamarck seemed to understood natural selection, he just didn’t believe it mattered.

    Darwin was certainly not the first to discover selection, not even natural selection. It seems to me that people like Buffon, Lamarck and Malthus had at least as many good ideas about evolution than Darwin, and Lamarck, in particular, had surprisingly advanced ideas. But, unlike Lamarck, Darwin published his book at the right time and people were much more receptive to his ideas.

    Darwin was unable to explain how selection worked and many rejected Darwinism before Yule, Fisher, Wright, Haldane and others saved selection by integrating it into a coherent framework. They were the first to truly understand the mechanisms of evolution, but of course their work isn’t very sexy (unless you enjoy maths and theory as much as I do).

    In my opinion, it would be much better if scientists stopped being so obsessed about Lamarck and Darwin. 90% of the time, when I read an article with a reference to Darwin or Lamarck, it seems like a cheap ploy to artificially inflate the historical importance of the paper.

  2. Just curious: who then invented the idea of inheritance of acquired characters?

  3. Marc

    “It is actually historically misleading to ascribe the idea of inheritance of acquired characters to Lamarck: it is an ancient idea which dates back as far as Plato.”

  4. …but this is the same thing with selection, it was well-understood even before the 19th century, but nobody thought selection was important for evolution.

    Although, if I remember correctly, Buffon, and not Lamarck, was the first to discuss of acquired inheritance in the context of evolution.

  5. I think the main issue is that the “Lamarck was right after all” line, which is very popular when covering epigenetics, is lazy history. Lamarck made a lot of contributions, but the precursor to the idea heritable epigenetic modulation is not one of them. As for the earlier ideas of selection and inheritance of acquired traits, please consult:

    Natural selection before Darwin
    Lamarck didn’t say it, Darwin did

  6. Re: “Lamarck didn’t say it, Darwin did.”

    See “How the giraffe got its long neck II” at

    “Wallace, not Darwin first broached the issue from the natural selection side”

    Therefore, the confusion stems from who gets the credit; it is a naming issue: the Lamarckian theory of acquired characters and the Darwinian theory of evolution.

    As I mentioned in my comment to “Again with the Lamarckism…,” research for a first year general science course and much later, Janet Browne’s two volume biography of Darwin makes it clear that we should refer to the Darwin/Wallace theory of evolution.
    Darwin was initially too timid to publish and after the Linnean Society paper of 1858 was too timid or disinterested to insist on equal credit.

    Rider: This of course is the view of a non-scientist, but is the view of an observer who reads widely and well.

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