Video: The Story Of The Midwife Toad: A Discovery Or A Hoax?
It would seem, what connection could there be between the genre of a detective novel and a description of the features of the biology of amphibians? Especially in the context of such an important problem of the theory of evolution as the question of the inheritance of acquired characters? But how often the plots of our life form the most bizarre interweaving! Here is one old story in which the detective story, biology, politics, and questions of scientific honor are linked in one tangle. It was investigated for a long time by the journalist and writer Arthur Koestler, who wrote a book that is practically unknown in our country, but which at one time became a bestseller in the West.
On September 23, 1926, on a trail on the slope of Mount Schneeberg in Austria, a road worker found the corpse of a well-dressed man. He had a pistol in his hand, suggesting suicide, and in one of his pockets was a letter addressed to "whoever finds my body." From the letter it followed that the deceased was Dr. Paul Kammerer, who asked to use his body for anatomical autopsies at some university and, as a non-believer, refused to conduct religious rites on him. In a postscript, he asked his wife not to mourn after his death … What led this man to such a tragic death?
Midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans)
Paul Kammerer was one of the brightest biologists of his time. He was born on August 17, 1880 into a wealthy family: his father was the founder and co-owner of the largest optical instrument factory in Austria. After training, usual for children of his circle, young Paul began to study music at the Vienna Academy of Music and even wrote a series of songs that were later performed in some concerts. I must say that in those years, the years of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph, Vienna was experiencing its "golden age". It was the world of opera, theater and concerts, picnics on the Danube, summer nights in the vineyards of Grinzing … On this happy island of peace and stability, the approach of the collapse of the Austrian Empire, the First World War and the difficult post-war years was not yet felt … The calm peaceful life contributed to the development of science and art and non-standard approaches to them.Already from a young age, young Paul showed a craving for zoology, and especially for "reptiles" - amphibians and reptiles: he had a small personal zoo, or, as they would say now, a living corner. Probably, this led him away from music and secular entertainment into a completely different sphere - biology. Having successfully graduated from the University of Vienna and defended his dissertation, Paul went to work at the Institute of Experimental Biology, founded not long before that on donations from individuals, including Professor Hans Leo Przybram, an outstanding experimental zoologist, author of a seven-volume textbook, according to which biologists studied at the beginning of the 20th century. … First, Pribram took Kammerer as an assistant to work with animals in the institute's aquariums and terrariums. The young researcher coped with this work brilliantly: as Pribram recalled, his vivarium was an example ofhow to properly keep animals.
One of Kammerer's unique qualities was his completely incomprehensible ability to breed amphibians and reptiles in captivity - this is what later formed the basis of the story that led him to a tragic end. Now it may seem strange - the breeding of many species of these animals is put on stream by amateurs both in our country and abroad. But now this has become possible thanks to sophisticated equipment, including electronic, the possibility of which in Kammerer's time could not have been guessed. Books about the terrarium, published at that time, contained descriptions of gas and oil heaters … And on such primitive equipment Kammerer bred salamanders, some tailless amphibians and other species. Subsequently, the famous geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, one of Kammerer's critics, wrote that he was an extraordinary person,who could spend nights composing symphonies after a day in the laboratory. He had such amazing abilities in the field of amphibian breeding that his data on the direct influence of the environment on the inheritance of acquired traits have to be trusted to a large extent. And these are the words of the critic!
Until now, no one has been able to repeat Kammerer's experiments on the inheritance of acquired traits from the midwife toad, salamanders and proteus - precisely because no one, like Kammerer, managed to breed them in captivity for several generations, and even in unusual conditions. But before proceeding to a description of Kammerer's experiments, let us dwell briefly on the essence of the problem for the sake of clarification of which they were posed.