Translated by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
On a celebrated occasion many years ago, my friend Frau Doktor Ulrika Thöus, of the Institut für Vererbungsforschung of the College of Architecture in Berlin-Dahlem, wrote me a letter in German that I translated, via the delicate fogginess known as ‘public refinement’, into my moribund imperial tongue. ‘You know,’ my illustrious lady friend said, ‘the work of R. Goldschmidt’s team, Die sexuellen Zwischenstufen, and the works of Meisenheimer, Harrison, and of my colleague Pariser. I suspect you know as well the studies done by Witschi on certain geographic races of frogs, and I assume you accept without discussion the rigour of Mendel’s laws as they pertain to the inheritance of sexes. It explains to us that, in beings of separate sexes, one sex forms, generally, in the animal kingdom as well as in that of the plants, two classes of gametes (X, Y), which is to say that it is heterogametic. In turn, the other sex is homogametic (X, X). What consequences would you draw from within the range of Goldschmidt’s extensive studies the Mendel inheritance of 1:1 or, if you would like it in the more commonly understood terms, 50% ♂♂ 50% ♀♀? I have experimented with numerous combinations of distinct species of the genus “Triton”. A microscopic examination of one hundred and twenty-three gonads revealed twenty-one cases in which ovaries developed, one in which a single testicle developed. And the remaining organism, more or less “a speck”, had an undifferentiated gonad in the middle of many ovaries. It is a strange result, do you not think? This is indisputable evidence that what we are talking about here are true hybrids: look, if you will, at the photograph I have included for you. You will distinguish in it four species, all of them represented in Germany, four of that country’s species of “Triton”: the “vularis”, the “cristatus”, the “alpestris”, and the “palmatus”. I crossed them in the following manner: vulgaris x cristatus, vulgaris x palmatus, palmatus x vulgaris, vulgaris x alpestris, palmatus x cristatus (it should be noted that the female always comes first). And I observed this percentage. What could be the cause of this predominance of ovaries? Goldschmidt would have explained it as being due to the transformation of all of the males into females, but this is not viable. 100% ?. Imagine! And do not offer me, I beg you, Federley’s affirmation of the chromatic combinations in the Lepidoptera.’
Having arrived at this point, Doktor Ulrika Thöus, a little excited, disserted largely about the theory of Federley, the Finn. Ulrika didn’t like the Finnish – perhaps because of the remote Ural-Altaic origins of that nation – and for a while this dislike came out in an absolutely anti-Mendelian tone. But the beloved Aryan friend found her way back to scientific equanimity and began again to discuss the ever-important matter of the deviation of the numerical relation between the sexes as they pertained to the genus of salamander under discussion. ‘Nevertheless, whatever the case may be regarding the Finn, I firmly believe Back then I thought, genius that I was, that what Ulrika claimed couldn’t be so. in Federley’s affirmations,’ conceded Ulrika. ‘Read those in “Heredities”, XII, 1929. – Über subletale und disharmonische Chromosomen-kombinationen. Are you familiar with these? Perhaps you are not in agreement with them? Have you investigated some fact, unknown to us, prior or posterior to the fertilization, which may be able to impede the development of the masculine sex, which may explain the appearance of a testicle (just one, mind) among so many ovaries? If you have, let me know immediately; I await the judgment of the master. Regarding my position on the matter, I can guarantee that my experiments corroborate those of the wise Finn concerning the Lepidoptera. All the ?? convert into ??, because the Y chromosome (I allude to Federley) is too weak to overcome the energetic action of the X and determine the emergence of the testicles. If you have another criterion, write to me. I know you are skeptical about “Triton,” but no matter. Yours, Dr. Ulrika Thöus.’
Back then I thought, genius that I was, that what Ulrika claimed couldn’t be so. I answered her right away, and my response went as follows:
‘Frau Doktor Ulrika Thöus. Institut für Vererbungsforschung. Berlin-Dahlem. – If, as you have informed me, my distinguished friend, one lone testicle and one that doesn’t count as a testicle end up together amid so many ovaries as vulgaris x cristatus, vulgaris x palmatus, palmatus x vulgaris, vulgaris x alpestris, and palmatus x cristatus, I am convinced that your conclusions arise from an overwhelming pessimism. But without question, apart from the neatness and competence for which they are well known, there absolutely must be some lamentable error in your observations. Some testicles were probably disguised as ovaries before your very eyes, which were likely fatigued: this is excusable. Look for them, then, beloved friend, and do not doubt that you will find them. For hidden though they may be – and it is incontrovertible that they are – sooner or later the testicles will have to appear. Eagerly awaiting the good news, it gives me pleasure in the meantime to offer myself to you for anything you may need in your exhausting research on the sexes.’
Image by D-Services.