It will be seen at once that this seems to preclude any possibility of a child’s inheriting from its parents anything which these did not themselves inherit. The bodies of each generation are, so to speak, mere “buds” from the continuous lines of germplasm. If we develop our muscles or our musical talent, this development is of the body and dies with it, though the physical basis or capacity we ourselves inherited is still in the germplasm and is therefore passed along to our children. We may also furnish our children an environment which will stimulate their desire and lend opportunity for similar or greater advancement than our own. This is social inheritance, or the product of environment—easy to confuse with that of heredity and very difficult to separate, especially in the case of mental traits.
It will likewise become clear as we proceed that there is no mechanism or relationship known to biology which could account for what is popularly termed “pre-natal influence.” A developing embryo has its own circulation, so insulated from that of the mother that only a few of the most virulent and insidious disease germs can ever pass the barrier. The general health of the mother is of utmost importance to the vitality, chances of life, constitution and immunity from disease of the unborn child. Especially must she be free from diseases which may be communicated to the child either before or at the time of birth. This applies particularly to gonorrhoea, one of the most widely prevalent as well as most ancient of maladies, and syphilis, another disastrous and very common plague which is directly communicable. As to “birthmarks” and the like being directly caused by things the mother has seen or thought about, such beliefs seem to be founded on a few remarkable pure coincidences and a great deal of folk-lore.
Reproduction in its simplest form is, then, simply the division of one cell into two parts, each of which develops into a replica of the original. Division is also the first stage in reproduction in the most complicated animal bodies. To get an idea of what takes place in such a division we must remember that a cell consists of three distinct parts: (a) the protoplasm or cytoplasm, (b) the nucleus, and (c) a small body known as the centrosome which need not be discussed here.
When a cell division takes place, the nucleus breaks up into a number of thread-like portions which are known as chromosomes. There are supposed to be 24 pairs, or 48, in the human cell. All the evidence indicates that these chromosomes carry the “factors” in inheritance which produces the characters or characteristics of the individual body.