Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

1744 - 1829


                       Soft Inheritance

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was an eminent French biologist and taxonomist. He published an influential theory of evolution, one component of which claimed that attributes that an organism acquires during life are passed on to progeny. Ernst Mayr called this "soft inheritance" to differentiate it from "hard inheritance" governed by genetic processes. So-called Lamarckian evolution was pretty well debunked by the early 20th century to be replaced by Darwinian evolution and Mendel's theories of dominant and recessive inheritance through genes.

It turns out that Lamarck was not entirely wrong. We now know that some epigenetic processes are influenced by the environment and that some of the resulting epigenetic alternations affecting gene expression may be passed on to progeny. Further, germline genetic engineering which is "acquired" during an organism's lifetime is certainly passed on to progeny. Of course Lamarck was not aware of the epigenome nor of the possibility of genetic engineering.

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