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Alternation of Generations and Individuality, 1851

Alternation of Generations and Individuality, 1851

(p.129) 5 Alternation of Generations and Individuality, 1851
Biological Individuality
Lynn K. NyhartScott Lidgard
University of Chicago Press

Alternation of generations historically referred to the phenomenon in which an organism asexually produced offspring that did not resemble itself; these offspring then sexually produced a new generation resembling the grandparental form. This presented problems for understanding individuality, with dissenting views passing through an intellectual bottleneck ca. 1851. Organisms as life cycles, transformation of bodies, different reproductive modes, and causal forces of development gripped biologists across Europe, engaging prominent theorists on individuality, including zoologists J. J. Steenstrup, Richard Owen, T. H. Huxley, and Johannes Müller, and botanists Matthias Schleiden, Alexander Braun, and Wilhelm Hofmeister. While these scientists reached no interpretive consensus, we show that they nonetheless generally shared a broad commitment to a temporal perspective, an overall development toward "perfection" (or completeness of variation through a life cycle) over time, and a nested hierarchy of individuality. Alternation of generations thus helped define the enduring problematic of biological individuality.

Keywords:   alternation of generations, levels of individuality, biological hierarchy, life cycles, Johannes Japetus Steenstrup, Thomas Henry Huxley, Richard Owen, Wilhelm Hofmeister

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