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Paul Kammerer

(1880—1926)


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(1880–1926) Austrian zoologist

Kammerer, the son of a prosperous factory owner, was educated at the university in his native city of Vienna, where he obtained his PhD. He then joined the staff of the university's recently opened Institute of Experimental Biology, where he worked until the end of 1922 and soon established a reputation as a skilled experimentalist. Much of his work appeared to support the unorthodox doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characteristics associated with Jean Lamarck. The most famous of Kammerer's experiments concerned the breeding behavior of Alytes obstetricans, the midwife toad. Unlike most other toads this species mates on land; the male consequently lacks the nuptial pads, blackish swellings on the hand, possessed by water-breeding males in the mating season to enable them to grasp the female during copulation.

Kammerer undertook the experiment of inducing several generations of Alytes to copulate in water to see what changes resulted. This involved overcoming the difficult task of rearing the eggs in water and ensuring the developing tadpoles were kept free of fungal infection. After almost ten years following this line he noted that in the F3 generation (the great grandchildren of the original parents) grayish-black swellings, resembling rudimentary nuptial pads, could be seen on the upper, outer, and palmar sides of the first finger.

In 1923 Kammerer visited Britain in the hope of resolving a controversy that had arisen between himself and the leading Cambridge geneticist William Bateson. As virtually all his animals had been destroyed in the war, he brought with him as evidence one preserved specimen and slides of the nuptial pads from the F5 generation made some ten years earlier. His lectures at Cambridge and to the Linnean Society were successful and none of the eminent biologists who examined Kammerer's specimen noticed anything suspect.

However when, early in 1926, G. Noble of the American Museum of Natural History came to examine the specimen in Vienna he found no nuptial pads, only blackened areas caused by the injection of ink. Despite the support of the institute's director, Hans Przibram, several possible explanations of the obvious fraud, and a still-open invitation from Moscow to establish an experimental institute there, Kammerer shot himself some six months after Noble's visit.

Kammerer had in fact carried out a whole series of experiments of which the work with Alytes was but a part, and for him not the most important part. In 1909 he claimed to have induced inherited color adaptation in salamander, and by cutting the siphons of the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis, to have induced hereditary elongations. The few people who attempted to repeat Kammerer's results were unsuccessful although in certain cases Kammerer was able to claim, with some justification, that his protocols had not been scrupulously followed.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.


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