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The Gene
Nature Bulletin No. 115   May 10, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

THE GENE
Plants and animals are made up of livlng substances. About 200 years ago it was discovered that living substances are divided into microscopic bits called cells. Bacteria and many kinds of primitive microscopic plants and animals were found to consist of one single cell each. A piece of skin was seen to be built of several layers of cells, each layer fitted together, like bricks in a wall Sometimes the cells are long and threadlike, as in muscles and nerves; sometimes they are irregular blocks; sometimes they are long and branching.

In 1865 an Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, reported the results of many years of experiments wherein he found that certain colors and shapes of peas were inherited as if definite units of heredity were transmitted through the female egg cells and the male pollen cells of the flowers. By crossing a wrinkled green pea with a smooth yellow pea he obtained several combinations including two new pure strains: a smooth green pea and a wrinkled yellow pea. Unfortunately, Mendel's report was lost to science until 1300. Then, very quickly, hundreds of scientific workers became interested and soon it was shown that the hereditary units, called genes, were transmitted as unchanged units from generation to generation, explaining the transmission of hereditary qualities of plants and animals from one generation to the next.

Eventually it was shown that these genes were located in tiny rod- shaped bodies, called chromosomes, inside the nucleus of each cell; and that a row of genes, arranged like a string of beads, ran lengthwise in each chromosome From studies of mice, fruit flies, corn and other animals and plants, it appeared that each cell contained hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different genes. Geneticists, the people specializing on studies of heredity, now believe that genes are the most fundamental living unit and do all the important work in living substance.

The cell is the house that gene built.


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