Venus Physique by Maupertuis

Venus Physique by Maupertuis

Dissertation physique a l

Dissertation physique a l'occasion du negre blanc by Maupertuis

Detail map of Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands Overview map of Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

A: Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis' Pioneer Theory of Epigenesis and Biparental Heredity

1744 to 1745
Pierre Louis Maupertuis

Pierre Louis Maupertuis

In 1744 French mathematician, philosopher and man of letters Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis issued anonymously Dissertation physique a l'occasion du negre blanc in Leiden through an unidentified publisher. This small book on human heredity was inspired by the appearance in Paris of a young albino negro. The case prompted Maupertuis to search for other cases of abnormal traits being passed down in a family from one generation to the next.  The following year he explored the issue of human heredity more fully in his Venus physique which incorporated a reprint of the 1744 Dissertation.

Issued anonymously in 1745, and without publishing location or the name of its printer, Venus physique refuted the preformationist theories of embryonic development held by most of his contemporaries in favor of the then-discredited epigenetic hypothesis, which Maupertuis had adopted after considering the obvious facts of biparental heredity.  Maupertuis rejected all vitalist or spiritual interpretations of the hereditary mechanism, arguing that biparental heredity required corporeal contributions from each parent. This argument was based on research that Maupertuis performed shortly after his arrival in Berlin in 1740, when he began collecting the pedigrees of the polydactylous Ruhe family. These pedigrees showed that the abnormal trait could be passed either by the male or female parent and that the trait tended to weaken and disappear over time as polydactylous individuals continued to marry normal spouses.  According to Glass, Maupertuis's theories of biparental heredity and epigenesis substantially anticipated those of Darwin, Mendel and de Vries nearly a century and a half later.

J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed (1991) no. 215.1.

Glass, "Maupertuis, pioneer of genetics and evolution," Forerunners of Darwin 1745-1859, ed. Glass, Temkin & Straus (1968) 51-83.

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