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Main article: Genetics

Heredity (the adjective is hereditary) is the transfer of characteristics from parent to offspring, either biologically through their genes or socially through memes


In biology, heredity refers to the transference of biological characteristics from a parent organism to offspring, and is practically a synonym for genetics, as genes are now recognized as the carriers of biological information. In humans, defining which characteristics of a final person are due to heredity and which are due to environmental influences is often a site of controversy (the nature versus nurture debate), especially regarding intelligence and race.

History of heredity in biology

Various hereditary mechanisms were envisaged without being properly tested or quantified. These included blending inheritance and the inheritance of acquired traits. Nevertheless, people were able to develop domestic breeds animals through artificial selection. The inheritance of acquired traits formed part of early Lamarckian ideas on evolution.

Charles Darwin proposed a theory of evolution in 1859 and one of its major problems was a lack of coherent hereditary mechanism. Darwin believed in a mix of blending inheritance and the inheritance of acquired traits (pangenesis). Blending inheritance would lead to uniformity across populations in only a few generations and thus would remove variation from a population on which natural selection could act. This led to Darwin adopting some Lamarckian ideas in later editions of The Origin and his later biological works. Darwin's primary approach to heredity was to outline how it appeared to work (noticing that traits could be inherited which were not expressed explicitly in the parent at the time of reproduction, that certain traits could be sex-linked, etc.) rather than suggesting mechanisms.

Darwin's initial model of hereditary was adopted by, and then heavily modified by, his cousin Francis Galton, who laid the framework for the biometric school of heredity. Galton rejected the aspects of Darwin's pangenesis model which relied on acquired traits.

The inheritance of acquired traits was shown to have little basis in the 1880s when August Weismann cut the tails off mice to find that their offspring did develop tails.

The idea of particulate inheritance of genes can be attributed to the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel who published on pea plants in 1865. However, his work was not widely known and was only rediscovered in 1901. On rediscovery of Mendel's work it was initially assumed the Mendelian inheritance only accounted for large differences, such as those seen by Mendel in his pea plants — and the additive effect of genes was not realised until Ronald Fisher's (1918) paper on The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance.

In the 1930s, work by Fisher and others resulted in a combination of Mendelian and biometric schools into the modern synthesis of evolution.

Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union emphasised incorrectly the inheritance of acquired traits. The inheritance of acquired traits appealed to the communist leaders, Lysenkoist movement being led by Trofim Lysenko.


The social institution called inheritance(for example, a title of nobility is passed from individual to individual according to relevant customs and/or laws).

One's bloodline is one's familial ancestry. See also meme.

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de:Vererbung (Biologie) et:Pärilikkus fr:Hérédité io:Heredo he:תורשה lv:Iedzimtība vi:Tính di truyền

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