Telegony (inheritance)

Telegony is a theory of heredity holding that offspring can inherit the characteristics of a previous mate of the female parent; thus the child of a woman might partake of traits of a previous sexual partner. Experiments in the late 19th century on several species failed to provide evidence that offspring would inherit any character from their mother's previous mates.[1] It was superseded by the rediscovery of Mendelian inheritance and the Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory.

Etymology and description edit

Telegony is the idea that a female will be permanently affected the time she is first impregnated, since the fetus will pass back characteristics to her that will affect all future offspring, no matter their progeny.[2]

The term was coined by August Weismann from the Greek words τῆλε (tèle) meaning 'far' and γονος (gonos) meaning 'offspring'.[2]

Early perceptions edit

The idea of telegony goes back to Aristotle. It states that individuals can inherit traits not only from their fathers, but also from other males previously known to their mothers. In other words, it was thought that paternity could be shared.[3]

Of a supposed Parnassos, founder of Delphi, Pausanias observes, "Like the other heroes, as they are called, he had two fathers; one they say was the god Poseidon, the human father being Cleopompus."[4] Sometimes the result could be twins such as Castor and Pollux, one born divine and one mortal.

The more general doctrine of "maternal impressions" was also known in Ancient Israel. The book of Genesis describes Jacob inducing goats and sheep in Laban's herds to bear striped and spotted young by placing dark wooden rods with white stripes in their watering troughs.[5] Telegony influenced early Christianity as well. The Gnostic followers of Valentinius (circa 100–160 CE) characteristically took the concept from the physiological world into the realm of psychology and spirituality by extending the supposed influence even to the thoughts of the woman. In the Gospel of Philip, a text among those found at Nag Hammadi:

Whomever the woman loves, to him those who are born are like; if her husband, they are like her husband; if an adulterer, they are like the adulterer. Often when a woman sleeps with her husband, but while her heart is with the adulterer with whom she is accustomed to unite, she bears the one whom she bears so that he is like the adulterer.[6]

Understandings in the 19th century and the collapse of the theory in the 20th edit

In the 19th century, the most widely credited example was that of Lord Morton's mare, reported by the distinguished surgeon Sir Everard Home, and cited by Charles Darwin.[7] Lord Morton bred a white mare with a wild quagga stallion,[a] and when he later bred the same mare with a white stallion, the offspring strangely had stripes in the legs, like the quagga.[8]

The Surgeon-General of New York, the physiologist Austin Flint, in his Text-Book of Human Physiology (fourth edition, 1888) described the phenomenon as follows:[9]

A peculiar and, it seems to me, an inexplicable fact is, that previous pregnancies have an influence upon offspring. This is well known to breeders of animals. If pure-blooded mares or bitches have been once covered by an inferior male, in subsequent fecondations the young are likely to partake of the character of the first male, even if they be afterwards bred with males of unimpeachable pedigree. What the mechanism of the influence of the first conception is, it is impossible to say; but the fact is incontestable. The same influence is observed in the human subject. A woman may have, by a second husband, children who resemble a former husband, and this is particularly well marked in certain instances by the colour of the hair and eyes. A white woman who has had children by a negro may subsequently bear children to a white man, these children presenting some of the unmistakable peculiarities of the negro race.[9]

Both Schopenhauer and Herbert Spencer found telegony to be a credible theory;[10] August Weismann, on the other hand, had expressed doubts about the theory earlier and it fell out of scientific favor in the 1890s. A series of experiments by James Cossar Ewart in Scotland and other researchers in Germany and Brazil failed to find any evidence of the phenomenon. Also, the statistician Karl Pearson tried to find an evidence for telegony in humans using family measurement data and the statistical methods he invented, but failed to conclude that the steady telegonic influence really exists.[b][11]

In mammals, each sperm has the haploid set of chromosomes and each egg has another haploid set. During the process of fertilization a zygote with the diploid set is produced. This set will be inherited by every somatic cell of a mammal, with exactly half the genetic material coming from the producer of the sperm (the father) and another half from the producer of the egg (the mother). Thus, the myth of telegony is fundamentally incompatible with our knowledge of genetics and the reproductive process. Encyclopædia Britannica stated "All these beliefs, from inheritance of acquired traits to telegony, must now be classed as superstitions."[12]

Influence in culture edit

Telegony influenced late 19th-century racialist beliefs. A woman who had a child with a non-Aryan man, it was argued, could never have a "pure" Aryan child at a later point in time. This idea was adopted by the German Nazi Party.[10]

Telegony re-emerged within post-Soviet Russian Orthodoxy. Virginity and Telegony: The Orthodox church and modern science of genetic inversions was published in 2004. gave an overview of the concept and a brief review of the book, saying that the authors invented "scary and incredible stories" to "make women be very careful about their sexual contacts" and that the idea was being used by the Church to scare the faithful.[13] Anna Kuznetsova, who was appointed Children's Rights Commissioner for the Russian Federation in 2016, had said several years earlier that she believes in the concept, amongst other fringe views. The founding editor of the business newspaper Vedomosti, Leonoid Bershidsky, interpreted the appointment of someone with such views as a sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin was becoming more ideological.[14]

The religious practice known as P'ikareum is an unusual variant in that it holds that one can purify one’s own bloodline from sin by having sex with a holy person, such as the founder of one of the religious sects that engages in this practice.

Epigenetics and telegony edit

A few studies in the 21st century have indicated that an organism can inherit traits that are not mediated by the genetic (DNA) material inherited from parents. The study of such effects is called Epigenetics. One study published in 2014 reported the existence of telegony in Telostylinus angusticollis as a non-genetic mechanism of epigenetic inheritance.[15][16]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ The quagga was a relative of the zebra, now extinct.
  2. ^ Assuming that later children of the same couple should increasingly resemble their father if there exists a possible “steady telegonic influence”.

References edit

  1. ^ Burkhardt, R. W. (1979). "Closing the door on Lord Morton's mare: the rise and fall of telegony". Studies in History of Biology. 3: 1–21. PMID 11610983.
  2. ^ a b Bynum, Bill (2002). "Telegony". Lancet. 359 (9313): 1256. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)08200-4. PMID 11955583. S2CID 208790899.
  3. ^ Smith, Lydia (1 October 2014). "Aristotle's Telegony Has Merit: Previous Male Partners Can Influence Other Men's Offspring". International Business Times.
  4. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece x.6.1.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Telegony" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Gospel of Philip, p. 112. Noted in Robert M. Grant, "The Mystery of Marriage in the Gospel of Philip" Vigiliae Christianae 15.3 (September 1961:129–140) p. 135.
  7. ^ Darwin, Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868).
  8. ^ "Lord Morton's Mare"
  9. ^ a b Flint, Austin (1888). Text-Book of Human Physiology (fourth ed.). USA: Appleton, New York. pp. 797.
  10. ^ a b Jan Bondeson, A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, 1999:159.
  11. ^ Pearson, K. (1 October 1909). "Statistics of telegony". Science. 30 (770): 443–444. Bibcode:1909Sci....30..443P. doi:10.1126/science.30.770.443-a. PMID 17777275.
  12. ^ "Heredity | Definition & Facts | Britannica". 14 September 2023.
  13. ^ "Woman's first partner may become genetic father of all her kids, telegony says". Pravda Report. 27 June 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  14. ^ Bershidsky, Leonoid (12 September 2016). "Putin Promotes the Next Generation of Ideological Cronies". Bloomberg View. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  15. ^ Crean, Angela J.; Kopps, Anna M.; Bonduriansky, Russell (2014). Marshall, Dustin (ed.). "Revisiting telegony: offspring inherit an acquired characteristic of their mother's previous mate". Ecology Letters. 17 (12): 1545–1552. doi:10.1111/ele.12373. ISSN 1461-023X. PMC 4282758. PMID 25270393. In summary, we show that adult body size of offspring can be influenced by the phenotype of a female's previous mate rather than the genetic sire in Telostylinus angusticollis. This novel transgenerational effect (an example of telegony) appears to be driven by the condition-dependent influence of male seminal fluid on the development of immature ovules. The potential for such effects exists in any taxon characterised by internal fertilisation and polyandry, and such effects could influence the evolution of reproductive strategies.
  16. ^ Patlar, Bahar (January 2022). "On the Role of Seminal Fluid Protein and Nucleic Acid Content in Paternal Epigenetic Inheritance". International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 23 (23): 14533. doi:10.3390/ijms232314533. ISSN 1422-0067. PMC 9739459. PMID 36498858.

Book/journal edit