From Senecio to Epigenetics

Commentary on Jochen Bockemühl: Eine neue Sicht der Vererbungserscheinungen
Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 100, 2014, P. 45-47 | DOI: 10.18756/edn.100.45


Goethe’s archetype, his idea of the plant remains to this day an invisible entity, and thus a scientific absurdity. But its implications for genetics that Jochen Bockemühl carefully worked out phenomenologically at the end of the 1960s are intensively researched today. Common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is an autogamous plant, i.e. the parent plant produces offspring that phenomenologically can hardly be distinguished from one another if they are sown at the same time and under the same conditions. But not unexpectedly, morphologically there are many clearly distinguishable types. Such an outcome must arise from self-pollination. According to Bockemühl, the differences can be understood if the for- mative potential of the various types is followed through the course of the seasons. Through monthly sowings, formative tendencies become visible which at other times are also shown by other types. For example, the shape of type A in April can hardly be distinguished from that of type B in July. Bockemühl argued that the types fix various formative tendencies and pass them on to their offspring. From this perspective, inheritance is not the cause of the shapes that arise but rather a result of them. Inheritance does not enable diversity but instead restricts it. As his writings show, Goethe arrived at a similar conclusion, only by other routes.

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