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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2014

5 - DELBRÜCK'S MODEL DISCUSSED AND TESTED

Summary

Sane sicut lux seipsam et tenebras manifestat, sic veritas norma sui et falsi est.

spinoza, Ethics, Pt ii, Prop. 43.

THE GENERAL PICTURE OF THE HEREDITARY SUBSTANCE

From these facts emerges a very simple answer to our question, namely: Are these structures, composed of comparatively few atoms, capable of withstanding for long periods the disturbing influence of heat motion to which the hereditary substance is continually exposed? We shall assume the structure of a gene to be that of a huge molecule, capable only of discontinuous change, which consists in a rearrangement of the atoms and leads to an isomeric molecule. The rearrangement may affect only a small region of the gene, and a vast number of different rearrangements may be possible. The energy thresholds, separating the actual configuration from any possible isomeric ones, have to be high enough (compared with the average heat energy of an atom) to make the change-over a rare event. These rare events we shall identify with spontaneous mutations.

The later parts of this chapter will be devoted to putting this general picture of a gene and of mutation (due mainly to the German physicist M. Delbrück) to the test, by comparing it in detail with genetical facts. Before doing so, we may fittingly make some comment on the foundation and general nature of the theory.

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