FOOTSTEPS OF GOD IN THE PLANT WORLD (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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By Gerald T. DenHartog, Research Argonomist

M.Sc, Ph.D., University of Minnesota; Research Agronomist, Cotton and Other Fibers Branch, Agricultural Research Serv­ice, U.S. Department of Agriculture; member American Society of Agronomists. Specialist in cotton breeding, field crop pathology, quantitative inheritance, biostatistics.

M.Sc, Ph.D., University of Minnesota; Research Agronomist, Cotton and Other Fibers Branch, Agricultural Research Serv­ice, U.S. Department of Agriculture; member American Society of Agronomists. Specialist in cotton breeding, field crop pathology, quantitative inheritance, biostatistics.

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This [article] will deal chiefly with plant breeding and genetics (heredity, etc.). The first recorded allusion to some type of inheritance in plants is found in the first chapter of Genesis:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth. And it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yield­ing seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind. And God saw that it was good.

Only by delving into our subject somewhat thoroughly can we establish the scientific authenticity of the Genesis report, aside from our spiritual faith in the Bible record.

The rediscovery of Mendel’s laws in 1900 by de Vries, Correns and von Tschermak, each working independently, ushered in the science of modern genetics. Based on results of numerous experiments conducted in the 1850’s and 1860’s, G. J. Mendel formulated the fundamental laws of segregation and independent assortment. These laws, together with the discovery of linkage by W. Bateson and R. C. Punnett in 1906, and the establishment of the chromosome as the seat of heredity by T. H. Morgan in 1919, form the foundation of modern genetics.

In actual practice, plant inheritance is much more complex than the one- or two-factor cases studied by Mendel. The basic principles, however, still apply. Many of the important agronomic characters (traits, or characteristics) of crop plants are multiple-factor in nature (subject to various influences). Also, there is only partial dominance, or incom­plete dominance, of the individual factors. In addition, the expression of many characters is influenced considerably by environment.

The virescent (turning green) characters in maize (corn) are an example. In the seedling stage and under low tempera­ture conditions the leaves are yellow. As the plant advances in age the leaves turn green and assume a normal appearance. Under other environmental conditions, such as warmer temperatures, certain of the virescent characters may not even be discernible.

The plant expression which we see is called the phenotype, a term indicating the sum total of visible traits which charac­terize the members of a group. This phenotype is made up of three components: that due to genotype (genetic), that due to environment, and that due to the interaction between The rediscovery of Mendel’s laws in 1900 by de Vries, Correns and von Tschermak, each working independently, ushered in the science of modern genetics. Based on results of numerous experiments conducted in the 1850’s and 1860’s, G. J. Mendel formulated the fundamental laws of segregation and independent assortment. These laws, together with the discovery of linkage by W. Bateson and R. C. Punnett in 1906, and the establishment of the chromosome as the seat of heredity by T. H. Morgan in 1919, form the foundation of modern genetics.

Drawing of Barley Plant

A plant species has been defined by the French botanist de Jussieu as “the perennial succession of similar individuals perpetuated by generation.” The members of a species have definite stem, leaf, and flower characteristics that are distin­guishable over and above the thousands of recognizable genetic variants which may occur within the species. By natural selection and human selection progress has been made in obtaining biotypes within each of the domesticated species that are more productive and better adapted than the prevalent types of several hundred years ago. There is reason to believe that this progress will continue in the future. However—and this is the great point to be stressed—basically the plant species remain the same all through the ages, regardless of selective processes, changes in climate and environment, or persistent and widespread attacks by bio­logical enemies. The Creator’s mandate in Genesis I is being carried out to this very day.

A striking illustration of the persistency of plant species is provided by the archaeological finds of wheat seed and other plant products that correspond to our present-day species and that have remained relatively unchanged over thousands of years. In his book on the history of cotton G. Watt reports that Theophrastus in 350 b.c. described “wool bearing” trees growing in what is now Bahrain, on the Persian Gulf. Tree cottons, known as “gossypium arboreum,” are very much in existence today.

It is true, mutations (alterations) occur in plant life, though with extreme infrequency—chromosomal mutations and gene mutations. But also these leave the species itself intact. Chromosomal mutations involve the loss of an entire chromosome or the deletion, inversion, or translocation of a chromosome segment. Gene mutations also occur. Such muta­tions, involving a single locus, have been studied on a large number of organisms. By the use of X-rays and mutator genes Muller studied the equivalent of some 1,000 or more genera­tions of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, and reports that the mutated genes are all deleterious or at best similar in effect to the original gene complex. Stadler obtained similar results from his X-ray studies of barley seeds. All these and similar studies indicated that there was no change in the species.

In the absence of selection and mutation cross-fertilization may be attempted, but Hardy’s formula (an intricate formula well known among modern agronomists) shows that eventu­ally genetic equilibrium is reached. The mechanism of heredity always tends to stabilize the species and to keep it within the bounds of its original type.

This writer believes that there is a God who reveals himself constantly through the unfailing laws, the mysteries and wonders of the plant world. He reveals himself in the follow­ing ways:

  1. The processes of plant growth and repro­duction as brought about by cell enlargement, division, and specialization of function proceed in a systematic, regular, and marvelously undeviating manner.
  2. No man-made machine today equals the complexity of operations involved in the growth and repro­duction of a single, simple plant.
  3. Beauty. The Divinely artistic beauty of plants—stems,leaves and flowers—greatly exceeds that which the greatest genius among men has produced.
  4. Inheritance. Plants reproduce after their kind, unfail­ingly. Inheritance does not proceed in a wild, haphazard, uncontrolled manner. Wheat produces wheat, barley barley, an olive tree an olive tree, under all sorts of environment, generation after generation.

To me, all this indicates the existence of a Creator-God, limitless both in knowledge and in power.

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