Observers who were actively engaged in this branch of recent histological research soon noticed that the chromosomes of a given organism are differentiated in definite numbers from the nuclear network in the course of division. This is especially striking in the gonotokonts, but it applies also to the somatic tissues. In the latter, one usually finds twice as many chromosomes as in the gonotokonts. Thus the conclusion was gradually reached that the doubling of chromosomes, which necessarily accompanies fertilisation, is maintained in the product of fertilisation, to be again reduced to one half in the gonotokonts at the stage of reduction-division. This enabled us to form a conception as to the essence of true alternation of generations, in which generations containing single and double chromosomes alternate with one another.
The single-chromosome generation, which I will call the HAPLOID, must have been the primitive generation in all organisms; it might also persist as the only generation. Every sexual differentiation in organisms, which occurred in the course of phylogenetic development, was followed by fertilisation and therefore by the creation of a diploid or double- chromosome product. So long as the germination of the product of fertilisation, the zygote, began with a reducing process, a special DIPLOID generation was not represented. This, however, appeared later as a product of the further evolution of the zygote, and the reduction division was correspondingly postponed. In animals, as in plants, the diploid generation attained the higher development and gradually assumed the dominant position. The haploid generation suffered a proportional reduction, until it finally ceased to have an independent existence and became restricted to the role of producing the sexual products within the body of the diploid generation. Those who do not possess the necessary special knowledge are unable to realise what remains of the first haploid generation in a phanerogamic plant or in a vertebrate animal. In Angiosperms this is actually represented only by the short developmental stages which extend from the pollen mother-cells to the sperm-nucleus of the pollen-tube, and from the embryo-sac mother-cell to the egg and the endosperm tissue. The embryo-sac remains enclosed in the diploid ovule, and within this from the fertilised egg is formed the embryo which introduces the new diploid generation. On the full development of the diploid embryo of the next generation, the diploid ovule of the preceding diploid generation is separated from the latter as a ripe seed. The uninitiated sees in the more highly organised plants only a succession of diploid generations. Similarly all the higher animals appear to us as independent organisms with diploid nuclei only. The haploid generation is confined in them to the cells produced as the result of the reduction division of the gonotokonts; the development of these is completed with the homotypic stage of division which succeeds the reduction division and produces the sexual products.
The constancy of the numbers in which the chromosomes separate themselves from the nuclear network during division gave rise to the conception that, in a certain degree, chromosomes possess individuality. Indeed the most careful investigations (Particularly those of V. Gregoire and his pupils.) have shown that the segments of the nuclear network, which separate from one another and condense so as to produce chromosomes for a new division, correspond to the segments produced from the chromosomes of the preceding division. The behaviour of such nuclei as possess chromosomes of unequal size affords confirmatory evidence of the permanence of individual chromosomes in corresponding sections of an apparently uniform nuclear network. Moreover at each stage in division chromosomes with the same differences in size reappear. Other cases are known in which thicker portions occur in the substance of the resting nucleus, and these agree in number with the chromosomes. In this network, therefore, the individual chromosomes must have retained their original position. But the chromosomes cannot be regarded as the ultimate hereditary units in the nuclei, as their number is too small. Moreover, related species not infrequently show a difference in the number of their chromosomes, whereas the number of hereditary units must approximately agree. We thus picture to ourselves the carriers of hereditary characters as enclosed in the chromosomes; the transmitted fixed number of chromosomes is for us only the visible expression of the conception that the number of hereditary units which the chromosomes carry must be also constant. The ultimate hereditary units may, like the chromosomes themselves, retain a definite position in the resting nucleus. Further, it may be assumed that during the separation of the chromosomes from one another and during their assumption of the rod- like form, the hereditary units become aggregated in the chromomeres and that these are characterised by a constant order of succession. The hereditary units then grow, divide into two and are uniformly distributed by the fission of the chromosomes between their longitudinal halves.
As the contraction and rod-like separation of the chromosomes serve to isnure the transmission of all hereditary units in the products of division of a nucleus, so, on the other hand, the reticular distension of each chromosome in the so-called resting nucleus may effect a separation of the carriers of hereditary units from each other and facilitate the specific activity of each of them.
In the stages preliminary to their division, the chromosomes become denser and take up a substance which increases their staining capacity; this is called chromatin. This substance collects in the chromomeres and may form the nutritive material for the carriers of hereditary units which we now believe to be enclosed in them. The chromatin cannot itself be the hereditary substance, as it afterwards leaves the chromosomes, and the amount of it is subject to considerable variation in the nucleus, according to its stage of development. Conjointly with the materials which take part in the formation of the nuclear spindle and other processes in the cell, the chromatin accumulates in the resting nucleus to form the nucleoli.
Naturally connected with the conclusion that the nuclei are the carriers of hereditary characters in the organism, is the question whether enucleate organisms can also exist. Phylogenetic considerations give an affirmative answer to this question. The differentiation into nucleus and cytoplasm represents a division of labour in the protoplast. A study of organisms which belong to the lowest class of the organic world teaches us how this was accomplished. Instead of well-defined nuclei, scattered granules have been described in the protoplasm of several of these organisms (Bacteria, Cyanophyceae, Protozoa.), characterised by the same reactions as nuclear material, provided also with a nuclear network, but without a limiting membrane. (This is the result of the work of R. Hertwig and of the most recently published investigations.) Thus the carriers of hereditary characters may originally have been distributed in the common protoplasm, afterwards coming together and eventually assuming a definite form as special organs of the cell. It may be also assumed that in the protoplasm and in the primitive types of nucleus, the carriers of the same hereditary unit were represented in considerable quantity; they became gradually differentiated to an extent commensurate with newly acquired characters. It was also necessary that, in proportion as this happened, the mechanism of nuclear division must be refined. At first processes resembling a simple constriction would suffice to provide for the distribution of all hereditary units to each of the products of division, but eventually in both organic kingdoms nuclear division, which alone insured the qualitative identity of the products of division, became a more marked feature in the course of cell-multiplication.
Where direct nuclear division occurs by constriction in the higher organisms, it does not result in the halving of hereditary units. So far as my observations go, direct nuclear division occurs in the more highly organised plants only in cells which have lost their specific functions. Such cells are no longer capable of specific reproduction. An interesting case in this connection is afforded by the internodal cells of the Characeae, which possess only vegetative functions. These cells grow vigorously and their cytoplasm increases, their growth being accompanied by a correspondingly direct multiplication of the nuclei. They serve chiefly to nourish the plant, but, unlike the other cells, they are incapable of producing any offspring. This is a very instructive case, because it clearly shows that the nuclei are not only carriers of hereditary characters, but that they also play a definite part in the metabolism of the protoplasts.
Attention was drawn to the fact that during the reducing division of nuclei which contain chromosomes of unequal size, gemini are constantly produced by the pairing of chromosomes of the same size. This led to the conclusion that the pairing chromosomes are homologous, and that one comes from the father, the other from the mother. (First stated by T.H. Montgomery in 1901 and by W.S. Sutton in 1902.) This evidently applies also to the pairing of chromosomes in those reduction-divisions in which differences in size do not enable us to distinguish the individual chromosomes. In this case also each pair would be formed by two homologous chromosomes, the one of paternal, the other of maternal origin. When the separation of these chromosomes and their distribution to both daughter-nuclei occur a chromosome of each kind is provided for each of these nuclei. It would seem that the components of each pair might pass to either pole of the nuclear spindle, so that the paternal and maternal chromosomes would be distributed in varying proportion between the daughter-nuclei; and it is not impossible that one daughter-nucleus might occasionally contain paternal chromosomes only and its sister-nucleus exclusively maternal chromosomes.