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Our Ancient and Diverse Brassica vegetables

On the 8th and 9th September we welcomed members of the public to join us for our annual Heritage Open Day event in the John Innes Historical Collections. Heritage Open Days represent England’s biggest heritage festival, and like venues all across Norwich and Norfolk we were joining in the celebration of our history and culture. For these special HODs events we like to not only display a new theme using our fantastic rare books and archives, but also bring in one of our John Innes Centre scientists to tell us about their research. This year we were very lucky to have Dr Judith Irwin from JIC’s Crop Genetics Department talking about ‘Our Ancient and Diverse Brassica Vegetables’- a fascinating tour of more than 2000 years of history of cultivation and study, brought up to date with Judith’s research on flowering time in broccoli.

Display of brassica images from our rare books, 17th to 20th century

Our Heritage Open Day Event for 2016. On display, brassica illustrations across four centuries. John Innes Historical Collections.

Judith began her talk with a survey of the brassicas which are part of the mustard family. The mustards are a very large family of more than 300 genera and 3,500 species. In traditional botanical classification the mustards are part of the Crucifer family (having four petals arranged in a cross). Judith told us that a good place to see the wild brassica ancestor of many of our garden brassica vegetables (Brassica oleracea subspecies oleracea) are the chalk cliffs of Dorset where you’ll see their clumps of yellow flowers. We’re not sure whether this species is genuinely native to the UK or a garden escape. Studies of the plant geography suggest an origin in the Irano-Turanian region, possibly centred on Turkey – but this has not yet been confirmed. A flora of Turkey published in 2007 listed 560 species of Brassicaceae in all.

18th century Dutch illustration of cabbage

Cabbage illlustration from J. W. Weinmann’s 4 volume Duidelyke Vertoning … (Amsterdam, 1736-1748). John Innes Historical Collections.

The origins of our cultivated brassicas were probed further by a Korean-Japanese botanist who was working in Japan called Dr U (his name Woo Jang-choon is today known by the Japanized reading of his name ‘Nagaharu  U’) who in 1935 came up with what is now known as ‘U’s triangle’- a diagram of the relationships between the different cultivated brassica species. U showed that oilseed rape and swede (Brassica napus) is a hybrid between two other species: Brassica rapus (turnip, Chinese cabbage, turnip rape) and Brassica oleracea (cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower).

Illustrated diagram to show the relationship between cultivated Brassica species after U 1935

Diagram of ‘U’s triangle’ showing the relationship between different cultivated brassica species. Design: Judith Irwin, John Innes Centre after U, 1935.

Judith then moved on to tell us about the ancient history behind brassica vegetables, from descriptions by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus (370-285 BC) to the book on farming by Roman author Cato the Elder (234 BC to 149 BC) who stated ‘Cabbage surpasses all vegetables. Eat it either cooked or raw. If you eat it raw, dress it with vinegar. It aids digestion remarkably’. It has been suggested that our brassica vegetables originate with the Romans bringing cabbage to the British Isles (Gates 1950), and we know that the Anglo-Saxons cultivated brassicas because they actually called the month of February ‘sprout-kale’ (Wright, 1968). Brassica vegetables were cultivated extensively by medieval religious orders for food and medicine. Much of the knowledge they used probably came down to them from classical sources. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 to AD 79), for example, described a list of more than 80 cabbage-related medicines. The oldest herbals in the John Innes Historical Collections date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are full of advice on how to use brassicas for improving health and curing ailments. We displayed, for example, the popular herbal by Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) which listed many Cabbage–based remedies including: Adder bites, hoarseness of the voice, kidney stones, drunkenness, gout and many more.

Portrait of 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper

Nicolas Culpeper, author of a popular 17th century herbal that went to many editions. Our edition dates from 1819.

Judith went on to discuss which of our brassica vegetables came first. We think the first brassica crops grown here were the more primitive kales, or ‘collards’. The word ‘collard’ is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word ‘colewort’ – their word for cabbage plants.  In the Latin species name Brassica oleracea acephala, acephala means ‘without a head’. Kale has been grown for more than 2000 years: the Romans grew several kinds, and the Celts of central and Western Europe also grew them.

Illustrations of coleworts from John Gerard's herbal, 1636. John Innes Historical Collections

Garden ‘Coleworts’ illustrated in John Gerard’s Herbal, 1636. John Innes Historical Collections.

Kale and Cabbage varieties from 17th century herbal

More Kale and Cabbage varieties from John Gerard’s Herbal, 1636

The next brassicas to arrive were the cabbages: the species name Brassica oleracea capitata meaning ‘head’. Our common name ‘Cabbage’ is the anglicised form of the old French word caboce or caboche – also meaning ‘head’. The Celtic word ‘bresic’ for cabbage, is said to have influenced the Latin name brassica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We know that cabbages were grown in 14th century England because we have a recipe ascribed to the chief cook to King Richard II for “caboches in potage”, this instructs the reader to take caboches and quarter them – see the original recipe here. The commercial cultivation of cabbages in England came later- probably introduced from Holland in the 16th century by Sir Anthony Ashley. By this time cabbages and turnips had also reached North America. French Navigator Jacques Cartier is thought to have brought the seeds with him on his third voyage for use by the settlement he established in Canada.

Colour illustrations of Kohl rabi from a 19th century seed catalogue, Album Benary, 1876-1893

Illustration of Kohl rabi varieties from Ernst Benary’s Album Benary, 1876-1893 – a nineteenth century seed catalogue. John Innes Historical Collections.

Next came the Kohl rabi from the German Kohl for ‘cabbage’ and Rabi for ‘turnip’ with the species name Brassica oleracea gongloydes – the ‘gongloydes’ meaning roundish or swollen, these are thought to have appeared in the 16th century. Other 16th century novelties included the cauliflowers and broccolis. Cauliflower from the Latin ‘caulis’ (cabbage) and floris (flower) – the species name Brassica oleracea botrytis is taken from the Greek meaning like a bunch of grapes. The ‘broccoli’ name refers to its branching character (‘brachium’- an arm or branch). In 1586 broccoli’s were referred to as the ‘Cyprus coleworts’, while the Latin name for them is Brassica oleracea italica (from Italy).

Kales and Brussels sprouts illustrated in Album Benary, 1876-1893

Kales and Brussels sprouts from Album Benary, 1876-1893. John Innes Historical Collections.

Finally, the Brussels sprouts arrived (Brassica oleracea gemmifera) – ‘gemmifera’ meaning ‘diamond maker’ (giving the idea perhaps that eating them made you mentally alert!). These are generally believed to have evolved in the seventeenth or eighteenth century and originated, as the name suggests, from Brussels. Judith rounded off this discussion with some slides taken from the John Innes’s collection of seed catalogues which cover the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A sample of early 20th century seed catalogues in the John Innes Historical Collections

A selection of early 20th century seed catalogues from the John Innes Historical Collections.

These show that seed firms recommended kale to growers as a frost hardy crop that could be relied on when other greens were scarce or destroyed. Cauliflower was ‘rather tender’ and so was sown in spring for autumnal use, whereas broccoli was hardier and suitable for growing through winter for use in spring and summer. Judith drew attention to some of the varietal names for ‘Broccoli’ in the catalogues. For example, ‘Bunyard’s Early White’, ‘Bunyard’s April White’, and ‘Snow’s Winter White’ – showing that at this time (aside from the Purple Sprouting Broccoli) the headed ‘broccoli’ known to the English grower at that time was white not green. To re-inforce the point Judith showed a clip from a 1950s film showing the Spring ‘broccoli harvest’ in West Cornwall- the vegetables in the field clearly looking like cauliflowers (and on the day this was filmed 12 special trains were laid on to transport the ‘broccoli’ to London). Calabrese (what we now call the green headed broccoli in our greengrocers) appeared in our 1935 and 1949 English and American seed catalogues as a novel Italian import.

Illustration of Calabrese Broccoli from a Carter's Seeds 1939 seed catalogue

Our now familiar calabrese broccoli was considered a novelty in 1930s Britain. This illustration from Carter’s Blue Book of Gardening, 1939. John Innes Historical Collections.

The second part of Judith’s talk focused on modern brassica research. Research on brassica is first mentioned in the John Innes archives in the papers of A J Bateman who used them as part of his experiments to work out the isolation distances for seed crops (working out how far apart you needed to grow crops to keep them from intercrossing – to keep the seed ‘pure’). This research helped the seed growers reduce the land area they needed to raise crops for seed. In 1948 Bateman was also studying hybrids between different brassica species, and his records include one of the old ‘crossing tags’ that were used to mark up the experimental plants.

Illustration of archives on Brassica experiments in the John Innes Archives, from the 1940s

Items documenting brassica experiments in the 1940s from the A J Bateman archives, John Innes Historical Collections.

After that era brassicas only become a major part of JIC’s research in the late 1980s when a Brassica and Oilseeds Department was set up shortly before the closure of the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge. A lot of the work introduced by the arrival of the ex-PBI staff centred on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana – with its simpler genome and fast life-cycle, and compact form, it is a more convenient plant to work with to study genetics than the brassica species, to which the findings can later be applied. The more complex cabbages and cauliflowers have 3 times more genes and oilseed rape 6 times more to study.

Illustration of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana from William Curtis, Flora Londiniensis, 1835.

Arabidopsis thaliana, the ‘lab rat’ or ‘rosetta stone’ of plant genetics. Illustration from William Curtis, Flora Londiniensis, 1835. John Innes Historical Collections. Clues from this plant are helping scientists unlock the secrets of flowering time in brassicas.

Judith’s research focuses on how temperature influences flowering. Why do we want to do this? Judith explained that climate change will affect when plants flower, and it is also important for crop scheduling (having crop plants ready to harvest across the season to provide efficient harvesting and reduce waste). Judith showed some examples of how spells of extreme cold had wrecked brassica harvests in the recent past. Judith is interested in winter temperature and how plants tell the seasonal day length. Broccoli plants count the number of cold days they’re exposed to because they have a ‘vernalization requirement’ meaning they need a period of prolonged cold in order to flower. Temperature is central to any brassica you grow. The fundamental research on what controls flowering time here at JIC centres on the work of Dame Professor Caroline Dean, FRS whose work on Arabidopsis has produced so much of the ‘road map’ to understanding how flowering time in brassicas works.

Judith’s work, in collaboration with Professor Dean, plant breeders and growers, involves crossing different broccoli lines together to find the gene controlling the trait for how many days of cold (and how cold) the plant needs before it can flower. Their objective is to breed different varieties of broccoli that will be ready to harvest at different times.

Illustration of different varieties of Broccoli coming into flower at different times.

Different combinations of alleles allow us to schedule flowering across the season. New brassica varieties will need changed responses to cold as our climate changes.

The difficulty comes in the fact that the genes controlling flowering are also involved in many other plant characters (including the seeds and pods) – it is important not to adversely affect these commercial traits when producing new brassica varieties with changed responses to cold. The future challenge is to ‘climate-proof’ our crops: to produce crops with defined, predictable flowering times; uniform and shortened flowering period; more determinate flowering habit; and uniform harvest with reduced losses (by breeding for reduced cold sensitivity) for agricultural and horticultural crops and for seed and commercial production. Achieving this goal will require an integrated view across plant development as a whole, and how this is affected by the environment. Judith gave the audience an insight into some of the equipment required to take this research forward, from the state of the art controlled environment rooms at JIC (taking the weather to the plant rather than the plant to the weather) to photo-booths (at the University of Aberystwyth) used to document an individual plant’s growth and development from the start to the end of their life-cycle, a process that can then be digitally modelled.  I’m sure everyone enjoyed the talk and its fascinating insights into 2000 years of brassica history.

 

Further references:

Garden catalogues on display from the John Innes Centre Archives:

George Bunyard and Co. Ltd., Vegetables for Epicures n.d. [c. 1939-1945] (Maidstone, Kent)

Carter’s Tested Seeds Ltd, The Blue Book of Gardening, Catalogues 1939 and 1949 (Raynes Park, London).

S. Daniel’s & Son, Ltd. Catalogue, Spring, 1931 (Wymondham, Norfolk)

Henry A. Dreer, Dreer’s Garden Book 1935 (Philadelphia, PA, USA)

Edmunds (Milton) Ltd, Edmunds Bulbs, Seeds, and Plants Catalogue 1931 (Milton, Cambridgeshire)

Elsoms (Spalding) Ltd, Seeds of Quality Catalogue, December 1943 (Spalding, Lincolnshire)

For a brief history of cabbages:

R. Gates, ‘Wild cabbages and the effects of cultivation’, Journal of Genetics (1950) 51: 363-372

D. Mitchell, ‘The status of Brassica oleracea L. Subsp. Oleracea’ (wild cabbage) in the British Isles’, Watsonia (1976) 11: 97-103.

Jonathan Roberts, Cabbages and Kings: the Origins of Fruit and Vegetables (London: HarperCollins, 2001).

Lawrence Wright (1968). Clockwork Man London: Elek Books Ltd., p. 43. See more here

For more information about Judith Irwin’s lab and their work on brassicas at JIC follow the link.

For U’s classic paper and the now famous ‘U’s triangle’, See Nagaharu U (1935): “Genome analysis in Brassica with special reference to the experimental formation of B. napus and peculiar mode of fertilization”. Japan. Journal of Botany, 7: 389–452.

 

 

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Introducing our new archivist Mark Pitchforth

_DSC8893Mark portrait

Mark Pitchforth pictured in the John Innes Archives

My name is Mark Pitchforth and I have just taken up the post of John Innes Centre Project Archivist, funded by the Welcome Trust, based in the JIC Library and working with the wonderful historical archive collections held there.

My career working with archives has been quite varied to date. Before qualifying as an archivist I completed a year’s traineeship at Royal Holloway, University of London and subsequently gained a place at Liverpool University, completing my Masters in Archives and Records Management in 2004. Since then I have worked as an archivist at Cheshire Record Office, West Yorkshire Archives Service and most recently Hampshire Record Office based in Winchester. During my time there I was seconded to work on a part-time basis at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu on their motoring archives. This new position at JIC offers further variety and I’m very much enjoying the process of familiarising myself with the collections and the rich history attached to them. The wealth of material held is fantastic and I am excited at the prospect of making strides towards it becoming a more secure and accessible resource.

One of the most prominent collections among our archive holdings is the William Bateson papers documenting the life and work of Britain’s founding father of genetics. The collection comprises around 10,000 items dating from around 1869 to 1926, including two boxes of notebooks and small diaries. One of these notebooks I have found particularly interesting as it contains information on the setting up of the John Innes Horticultural Institution at Merton Park with hand-drawn pencil sketches of potential room layouts as well as research notes on rogue peas and lists of plants. The notebook also demonstrates some of the good archive conservation work which has been achieved. It had previously been exposed to water damage and was in extremely poor condition but with funding from the Welcome Trust and help from conservation staff at Norfolk Record Office, the notebook has now been cleaned and repaired and placed in custom archival packaging which will help protect it from any further damage in the future.

Bateson notebook with bespoke packaging and repaired cover after conservation at Norfolk Record Office

William Bateson notebook with bespoke packaging and repaired cover after conservation at Norfolk Record Office. It was formerly known only as ‘the mouldy notebook’ and could not be handled or read.

 

William Bateson's notebook contains room plans for the new Institute, plant lists and details of experiments on garden peas

William Bateson’s notebook contains room plans for the new Institute, plant lists, and details of his experiments on garden peas

We also hold collections relating to a number of other former Directors of John Innes including Cyril Darlington, who oversaw the move to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire after the Second World War and whose papers have been catalogued in detail, and Harold W Woolhouse, who was instrumental in the development of the John Innes Centre during the 1980s as it grew from around 200 staff to over 800, incorporating the Sainsbury Laboratory, the Cambridge Laboratory and the Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory. The Woolhouse family have just passed on additional documents to add to the material already held relating to, amongst other things, his involvement with the Scientific Exploration Society, specifically projects based in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Colombia in the 1970s. We’ve also recently received a substantial number of documents from Prof David Hopwood, Emeritus Fellow in the Department of Molecular Microbiology at JIC and a pioneer in the field of the genetics of Streptomyces coelicolor. This demonstrates that the collection of archives is a continuous process and it is important that material of potential historical significance is preserved now for future generations of researchers.

I have begun developing a collections policy and staff manual encompassing all aspects of archive care. This will include improving the condition and security of the historic material through the introduction of further archive standard packaging, identifying items within the collections like the Bateson notebook in need of professional conservation work and revisiting our procedures and provisions surrounding access and disaster planning. Also important is to encourage greater awareness of the unique and valuable collections we hold and encourage as many people as possible to make use of them. This will be achieved by improving the level of archive cataloguing, ensuring that documents can be located and produced efficiently, making greater use of the searchable Calm archive database and generally promoting the work that we are doing.

For more information about the JIC historical collections go to http://collections.jic.ac.uk. If you have relevant material which you think should be preserved, either now or in the future, or any other questions regarding the archives then feel free to get in touch to discuss things further. My personal e-mail is Mark.Pitchforth@jic.ac.uk.

Mark’s post, and conservation and cataloguing work on the Bateson and Darlington collections was funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant in Medical History (Grant no. GR093741)

 

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Celebrating the history of peas and the International Year of the Pulse

This year (2016) has been designated the ‘International Year of Pulses’ (IYP) by the United Nations General Assembly. A quick look at the infographic on the official website tells you why: pulses are high in protein, their nutritional advantages include maintaining their quality after long storage, and they demand less water than other protein sources to produce, are economically accessible, and can also increase biodiversity and enhance soil fertility. Encouraging more pulses to be grown and eaten, and improving the protein content of the varieties under cultivation, is the goal of the international development and research communities, including the John Innes Centre. To mark this special year this blog delves a little into the history of just one of the pulses in widespread cultivation, the humble pea. Read what some of the early herbalists and botanists recorded about the pea (with illustrations from the John Innes Historical Collections). ‘Pulses’ are defined as edible dried mature seeds of leguminous crops so dried peas are the main focus of the blog, although the growth of the fresh pea market will also be touched on.

So to first briefly give some context, plant evidence points to two independent domestication events in peas. The first and largest cohort is Pisum sativum, which accounts for nearly all the cultivated peas worldwide.

Pisum sativum (syn. P. arvense) illustrated in John Sibthorpe's, Flora Graeca

Pisum sativum, which accounts for most of the cultivated peas worldwide, appears in many old botanical books as Pisum arvense (field peas). This illustration is from John Sibthorpe’s Flora Graeca (10 vols, London, 1806-40). John Innes Historical Collections.

The second domestication event took place in the Ethiopian highlands (‘Abyssinian peas’), a group that has proved difficult to classify. It is now classed as Pisum sativum sub-species abyssinicum, although molecular evidence shows it has more in common with two wild taxa, Pisum fulvum and Pisum elatius (P. sativum ssp elatius) than with sativum types. These peas had a more localised distribution in Africa.

Pisum fulvum illustrated in John Sibthorp's Flora Graeca

Pisum fulvum, one of the wild progenitors of Pisum abyssinicum. Illustration from John Sibthorp’s Flora Graeca (10 vols, London, 1806-40). John Innes Historical Collections.

Domesticated Pisum sativum, originated in the Near East around 8000 BCE, spread to Europe, Africa and Asia with Neolithic agriculture, fed Greek philosophers and Roman legionaries, and as ‘pease pottage’ (a gruel or thick soup), became a staple of medieval and early modern kitchens, keeping famine at bay.

Two illustrations of PIsum, from Ortus Sanitatis, 1511 and Hieronymus Bock, Kreuterbuch, 1560

Two early but unmistakable representations of Pisum from Ortus sanitatis, 1511 and from Hieronymus Bock, Kreuterbuch, 1560 (right). John Innes Historical Collections.

Pisum illustrated in Bock, Kreuterbuch, 1560

 

 

 

By the seventeenth century Pisum sativum had reached the Americas; peas are naturally packaged perfectly for expeditions, and the Pilgrim Fathers took dried peas with them on the Mayflower as part of their ration for the 65 day trip across the Atlantic. By this time European authors were beginning to discriminate between different pea varieties, and dividing ‘field’ from ‘garden’ peas.

17th century illustrations of peas, John Gerard's Herbal, 1597

Some of the different cultivated pea varieties available in the 17th century. Gerard noted that both field and garden peas were considered domesticated forms. John Gerard’s Herbal, 1597. John Innes Historical Collections.

 

Scottish or 'tufted' pea illustrated in John Gerard's Herbal, 1597

The Scottish or ‘tufted pea’ is a distinctive pea variety expressing apical fasciation. Heritage varieties of this form are still preserved in the Germplasm Resources Unit at the John Innes Centre today. Source: John Gerard, Herbal, 1597.

In the modern era, the creation and marketing of pea varieties proceeded apace with the development of plant breeding and the rise of horticultural companies like Suttons Seeds of Reading (founded 1806) or Carter’s Seeds of London (founded 1863). Today the John Innes Germplasm Resources Unit holds over 3,620 different ‘accessions’ of peas, from wild and domesticated peas collected on expeditions around the world, to ‘heritage’ peas from Great Britain (the oldest in the collection is the ‘Mummy Pea’ introduced in 1788), to an important collection of pea variants arising from mutations discovered or generated by scientists and breeders around the world. The development of new forms of peas in the 1970s by researchers at John Innes (the ‘leafless’ and ‘semi-leafless’ pea varieties), was based on mutant lines held in the collection. Today semi-leafless accounts for almost all dried pea varieties grown in the UK.

Eating peas fresh and green (rather than starting your dish with soaked dried peas) is a relatively modern luxury. Little dishes of garden peas were once presented for the enjoyment of Kings, Queens and Cardinals. By the time John Parkinson was writing his Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (2nd ed. 1656) green peas were eaten by rich and poor. He records that the ‘fairest’, sweetest, youngest and earliest peas were eaten by the rich, whereas the later, ‘meaner’ and lower priced peas were eaten by the poor or ‘serve to boyl into a kind of broth or pottage’ flavoured with Thyme, Mints, Savory ‘or some other such hot herbs to give it better relish’. Peas, he notes were especially consumed ‘in Town and Country in the Lent-time, especially of the poorer sort of people’. Mariners were another group relying on peas to sustain them ‘It is much used likewise at Sea for them that go on long voyages, and is for change, because it is fresh, a welcome diet to most persons therein’. As for the health benefits of including peas in the diet, 17th century authors rather sat on the fence, they were neither bad nor good!

Comments on the dietary value of peas from John Gerard's Herbal, 1636

Today peas are a taken-for-granted vegetable, and partly because food cultures have continued to evolve in the industrial age and new uses for peas have developed. Canned and frozen peas transformed the ‘fresh’ pea market. Dried peas found a new lease of life as ‘mushy peas’ (made from marrowfat peas). These will accompany your pie on a night out or at a football match in the north of England, and are also served alone as a snack in parts of the Midlands and North. A permanent stall in Norwich Market devoted to mushy peas has traded daily (except Sundays) since 1969. As an accompaniment to ‘traditional’ fish and chips mushy peas are an innovation of the 1970s. The dried pea remains central to many food cultures around the world including India, the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, and North and South America. Eating pea soup on Thursdays is a weekly tradition in Sweden and Finland and has been so ever since the Middle Ages. And in the Netherlands pea soup is traditionally served on New Year’s Day. Yet in the UK the pulse acreage in general has been in decline since 2001, falling from 319,000 hectares to 157,000 hectares in 2012. Combinable peas (for the dried pea market) have suffered the greatest decline, a 70% fall in the same period, though the acreage of vining (fresh) peas has been more stable it is also in gradual decline. The introduction of the three crop rule in 2015 as part of the Common Agricultural Policy reform (aimed at increasing diversification and ensuring that farming practices benefit the environment) has provided a significant stimulus to pulse growers but their expansion is still highly dependent on the size of the market and the commodity value.

The observation that peas and beans have root nodules (where nitrogen-fixing micro-organisms live in symbiosis with these plants) was made by plant anatomists in the seventeenth century. The role of legumes in restoring fertility to arable land was also well-known by the early nineteenth century, even if the nitrogen-fixing process itself remained largely a mystery. The famous ‘Norfolk four-course rotation’, popularised by the Holkham Estate in north Norfolk, was based on the clover crop for nitrogen fixing in a field rotation of wheat, barley, turnips and clover. In modern crop rotations peas take the place of clover as so few arable farms now have grazing livestock. Today’s CAP three-crop rule is a move to bring the benefits of pulses and their nitrogen fixation back onto more farms. To read more about the peas grown in the UK and their future prospects follow the link to the recent Anderson Report (2015) commissioned by JIC.

17th century illustration of root nodules on a pea plant, Malpighi, Anatome Plantarum, 1675

Root nodules can clearly be seen on the top left hand pea plant in this seventeenth century illustration. From Marcello Malpighi, Anatome plantarum (London, 1675). John Innes Historical Collections.

Given the number of byways a history of the pea could lead you down it’s surprising this crop hasn’t attracted more attention from historians (if you know of a good source for peas do let me know on Twitter @JIChistory or email sarah.wilmot@jic.ac.uk). I know of nothing to parallel Redcliffe Salaman’s The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1949) for example, or the delightful assemblage that is the virtual ‘World Carrot Museum’ founded and curated by John Stolarczyk from Skipton in North Yorkshire. A starting point might be Mike Ambrose’s 2008 chapter on the plant breeding history of the garden pea. In addition, and apparently well worth a visit, there are the Grade II listed ‘Pea Rooms’ at Heckington, Lincolnshire (post code NG34 9JH) where pea history is preserved in photos on the wall (if anyone has visited and has photos please get in touch). Peas also assume an important role, if still not quite centre stage, in the history of genetics, thanks to the focus on Gregor Mendel’s pea hybridisation experiments (published in 1866) and the attention paid them since their ‘rediscovery’ around 1900 (see earlier blogs for a flavour of the controversies around Mendel and his British defender, William Bateson, the first Director of the John Innes). The 2016 anniversary of Mendel’s publication will bring historians of science together for a new round of commemoration, new Mendel exhibitions, and some exciting new historical interpretations. The British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) is about to launch an educational initiative in partnership with the Brno Mendel Museum and the Royal Society to celebrate the contribution of Mendelian genetics to modern science and highlight the contributions made by Cambridge women scientists in the early twentieth century.

Caroline Pellew, one of the early pea geneticists at John Innes, illustrated by Dorothy Cayley.

Caroline Pellew working in the plots at the John Innes Horticultural Institution in the 1910s. Caroline was one of the Institute’s first pea geneticists, working alongside William Bateson. Bateson had encouraged women researchers to take up genetics both at Cambridge and at the John Innes. Caroline’s route into plant science was University College Reading’s two-year Diploma in Horticulture though, not the University of Cambridge. Illustration by Dorothy Cayley, John Innes Historical Collections.

The celebrations will coincide with the publication by the BSHS of a new edited English translation of Mendel’s work (surprisingly the one relied on currently is still the one commissioned by Bateson in the early 1900s), and will be followed up by educational web-based material. Meanwhile a helpful textbook edited by Denise Phillips and Sharon Kingsland, New Perspectives on the History of Life Sciences and Agriculture (Springer, 2015; available in the John Innes History of Genetics Library) includes chapters by Sanders Gliboff and Jonathan Harwood re-assessing the literature surrounding the ‘Mendelian revolution’ and looking again at Mendel’s impact on plant breeding (and its wider ramifications for debates about human breeding). At Leeds, Greg Radick is working on a biography (due out in 2018) of W F R Weldon, Bateson’s arch rival and critic of Mendelian genetics in Britain.  Provisionally titled Disputed Inheritance: The Battle over Mendelism and the Future of Biology, you can expect some challenging new insights on the controversy caused by Mendel’s peas. For a flavour of what’s to come listen to the Mendel discussion hosted by the Royal Society last summer.

 

 

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Mendel and the culture of commemoration

Last month (February 8th) was the 150th anniversary of Gregor Mendel reading the first part of his paper ‘Experiments on plant hybrids’ to the natural history society in Brünn, now Brno in the Czech Republic. Next Sunday (March 8th) will be the anniversary of Mendel reading the concluding part of his paper, an account of a long series of crossing experiments on garden peas.  The big commemorative celebrations will take place from 7th-10th September 2015 when international scientists gather at the Mendel Museum of Masaryk University in Brno for lectures and speeches on ‘Mendel’s legacy: 150 years of the genius of genetics’. In addition, the occasion will be marked by two linked exhibitions in the Mendel Museum: the already launched ‘Unseen for many years’ exhibition (8th February to 5th April) showcases Mendel’s original documents which have been brought home to Brno from the University of Illinois where they now belong. The second exhibition will feature the life of Mendel’s first biographer Hugo Iltis (1st October to 31st December). In between these there will be a display celebrating Mendel at the State Darwin Museum in Moscow titled ‘The Construction Set of Life’ (April 18th to May 31st). These events all affirm Mendel as the founding father of modern genetics.

 

This seems then to be a good moment to reflect on the ‘culture of commemoration’- how history of science is re-told and why ‘discovery narratives’ of the kind that surround Mendel are promoted. The lionisation of Mendel in England began soon after the ‘rediscovery’ of his paper around 1900 by three European botanists: de Vries in Holland, Correns in Germany, and Tschermak in Austria. Cambridge University zoologist William Bateson organized the first English translation of Mendel’s paper for the Royal Horticultural Society in 1901, and he arranged for the translation to be reprinted with modifications on several occasions. Bateson also published one of the earliest biographical notices of Mendel in a preface to his book Mendel’s Principles of Heredity: A defence (1909), from material he had collected on a pilgrimage to Brno in 1904. Bateson’s narrative included many aspects of the history we’re now familiar with – the theme of neglected genius, the sensational rediscovery and confirmation of Mendel’s experiments, and the idea that if Darwin had been able to read Mendel the development of evolutionary science would have been very different. Versions of this story (without any historically informed reflection on the relationship between Darwin and Mendel) appear in the biology textbooks we offer to today’s schoolchildren and students.

Images of Mendel's garden were popular with early geneticists.

Images of Mendel’s garden were popular with early geneticists and were able to stand alone as icons of the Mendel discovery story. This one collected by William Bateson in 1910 was used by @JohnInnesCentre recently to commemorate Mendel’s paper.

For Bateson, commemoration was about bringing Mendel into general recognition. It was a calculated move in a battle he was engaged in with the English biometricians and other biological schools about the methods of biology and the causes of evolution. Bateson built his reputation and career with the authority of Mendel behind him. This relationship is nowhere better expressed than in the portrait of Bateson (below) taken at the Darwin Museum in Moscow in 1925. We know the saying ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ but in this photograph, the bust of Mendel is tellingly perched above William Bateson’s shoulders, with rows of domestic chickens and guinea pigs, the stock-in-trade of contemporary genetics experiments, arranged attractively in display cases behind him. Little would we suspect from this image that at this point in his career Bateson had told his son Gregory (named after Mendel) that his life-long devotion to Mendelism had been a mistake, ‘a blind alley which would not throw any light on the differentiation of species, nor on evolution in general’ (Cock, 1980).

William Bateson with a bust of Gregor Mendel in the Darwin Museum, Moscow, 1925

William Bateson pictured beneath a bust of Mendel, Darwin Museum, Moscow, 1925

Commemoration is a collective endeavour that scientists engage in to build and sustain scientific disciplines (Haddad, 1999). Historians of science sometimes reinforce and at other times work against the discovery narratives that the act of commemoration produces. Revisionist accounts of the history of Mendelism have revealed how much of the complexity of early twentieth century biology gets forgotten in celebratory narratives. For example, we forget that Mendel’s three ‘re-discoverers’ had serious doubts about how widely Mendel’s laws applied; that within a year de Vries had turned away from Mendelian heredity; and that Tschermak’s interpretation of ‘Mendel’s principles’ differed significantly from Bateson’s. When re-reading Mendel’s paper we should also be mindful of Ronald Fisher’s (not dis-interested) conclusion that ‘Each generation, perhaps, found only in Mendel’s paper what it expected to find … [and] … ignored what did not confirm its own expectations’ (Fisher, 1936).

Mendel commemoration, of course, is not just for scientists or historians of science, it has had many other uses as well. Bateson attended the first international gathering to memorialise Mendel in Brno in 1910; he was present at the unveiling of the Mendel statue and gave one of the speeches. He witnessed the ceremonies being used to express German political power and commented that Mendel’s own Augustinian monastery and the Czechs were given a very minor role. The Abbot was the only one present at the celebrations who had known Mendel personally but he was not included in the speeches; the pre-celebration meeting and exhibition of Mendel documents took place in the ‘German House’ not the monastery, and the inscription on the monument was in German alone (Cock, 1982). Mendel’s story has also been used to promote science, or at least ‘free thinking’, over religion, notwithstanding his position as a friar and later Abbot within a monastic community. The photograph of Mendel in the Darwin Museum in Moscow records a time when it was possible for Mendel to represent the glories of science, within a state cultural modernisation programme that had its museum sculptors busy replacing religious icons with statues of scientists. When genetics later fell out of favour in Russia, Mendel’s clerical position made him doubly suspect.

To me the most surprising history of Mendel commemoration is the one recently unearthed by Ronald Numbers (Numbers, 2015). He documents that for almost a century Mendel and Bateson have been celebrated as creationist heroes. Mendel was embraced with enthusiasm by antievolutionists after Canadian-born school teacher George McCready Price began promoting Bateson’s statements against evolutionary theory to Christian fundamentalists. Though Bateson’s earlier books had said little about the relationship between Darwin and Mendel, his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Melbourne, Australia in 1914 began what became a long-standing creationist interest in Mendel. Price (bolstered with quotations from Bateson’s lecture) credited Mendelism with undermining Darwinism. If Mendelism allowed only for the varied re-assortment of hereditary characters already present there was no room for evolution. Later Bateson tried in vain to express his faith in evolution, to neutralise the coverage of his lectures that had provided fodder to the creationist camp. He failed, for Numbers shows that Mendel continues to be commemorated as a ‘creationist hero’ into the 21st century.

All of this shows that neither Mendel nor Bateson had control over the way their images or writings were represented. To borrow an insight from the Spanish author Javier Marίas, no one achieves silence, not even after death! It follows that studying the history of science is more than the interpretation of ‘landmark’ texts but must involve following ideas in circulation- studying both the people speaking on behalf of the dead scientists and the consumers of that information.

 

Postscript: A date for your diary

The John Innes Centre will have its own commemoration of Mendel when we launch our new annual history of science lecture (the Innes Lecture) within the Friends of John Innes Centre lecture series in April. We’re very pleased that the inaugural Innes Lecture will be given by Professor Greg Radick from University of Leeds. Greg, who teaches history and philosophy of science, has titled his lecture ‘Mendel the Fraud? A Social History of Truth in Genetics’.  This event will take place in the John Innes Conference Centre, on April 20th 2015 from 18.30 to 21.30.

To book a place at the Innes Lecture please email dawn.rivett@nbi.ac.uk

 

To find out more about the 2015 Mendel celebrations: http://www.mendelgenius.com/  [More events may get added to the current list over the coming months so watch this space!]

Further Reading: This is just a small selection, there’s so much more available on the web – get exploring!  A great resource is to start with is http://www.mendelweb.org/

Alan G. Cock (1980), ‘William Bateson’s Pilgrimages to Brno’, Brno Acta Musei Moraviae, Folia Mendeliana, 65: 243-250.

Alan G. Cock (1982), ‘Bateson’s impressions at the unveiling of the Mendel monument at Brno in 1910’, Brno Acta Musei Moraviae, Folia Mendeliana,  67: 217-223.

Ronald A. Fisher (1936), ‘Has Mendel’s work been rediscovered?’ Annals of Science, 1: 115-137.

George E. Haddad (1999), ‘Medicine and the culture of commemoration: representing Robert Koch’s discovery of the tubercle bacillus’, Osiris, 14: 118-37. [This classic paper has inspired historians of science and medicine to critically re-examine commemorative events. See also the other papers in this volume on the politics of collective memory].

Javier Marίas (2006), Your Face Tomorrow. 1. Fever and Spear. Translated by M. J. Costa, London: Vintage Books, p. 4.

Ronald L. Numbers (2015), ‘Gregor Mendel: Creationist Hero’, Science and Education, 24: 115-23.

Robert C. Olby (1979), ‘Mendel No Mendelian’, History of Science, 17: 53–72.

Robert C. Olby (2000), ‘Horticulture: the font for the baptism of genetics’, Nature Reviews, Genetics, 1: 65-70. [A good summary of revisionist work on the early history of Mendel’s paper and the groups who were not receptive to Mendelism].

Marsha L. Richmond (2006), ‘The 1909 Darwin Celebration. Re-examining Evolution in the Light of Mendel, Mutation and Meiosis’, Isis, 97: 447-484. [A behind-the-scenes look at how this Darwin commemorative event was stage managed, with valuable insights on contemporary attitudes to Mendel, Bateson, Mendelism and evolution].

Jan Sapp (1990), ‘The Nine Lives of Gregor Mendel’, pp. 137-166 in ed. H. E. Le Grand, Experimental Enquiries (Kluwer Press: Netherlands). [An excellent survey of all the different ways Mendel has been portrayed and also available at Mendelweb].

 

 

 

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Harvest Moon and the Wheat Wizard

 

Harvest Moon 05

Statue of Sir Rowland Biffen with some historic wheat varieties from the Germ Plasm Resources Unit, John Innes Centre

In September the John Innes Centre celebrated the life and work of plant breeder Rowland Biffen, one of the key figures documented in the Plant Breeding Institute archives which were transferred to JIC archives after the Institute was privatised in 1987. The celebration was planned around a huge wooden desk ‘Biffen’s Desk’ which has stood in our Conference Centre at Norwich since its transfer from the old Plant Breeding Institute site in Trumpington, Cambridge. We recruited an intern to design an innovative exhibition around this artefact, tapping into the University of East Anglia’s internship scheme (a scheme to give paid work experience opportunities to recent UEA graduates). This blog is based on our intern Megan Penney’s work.

_DSC9288 Rowland Biffen Lantern slide: wheat ears

Wheat ears from Rowland Biffen’s collection of glass lantern slides, John Innes Archives

 

Megan began by exploring the archive which included exploiting some uncatalogued glass lantern slides that belonged to Biffen for projection onto walls and poster displays. These images were combined with examples of historic wheat plants sourced from JIC’s Germ Plasm Resource Unit, and Biffen artefacts from the archives, to bring Biffen’s history alive. Megan was also able to cleverly integrate JIC’s modern time-lapse photography of a growing wheat field into the exhibition. By up-ending a couple of the old and stained desk drawers and projecting the film into them she cleverly ‘antiqued’ the moving images.

Harvest Moon 42 Nikolai Adamski talks about wheat

JIC crop scientist Nikolai Adamski explaining how today’s wheat geneticists are unlocking wheat’s natural diversity

 

 

 

 

The exhibition was presented to the Friends of John Innes on the 8th September in an event titled ‘Harvest Moon and the Wheat Wizard’ and the evening also featured informal talks from our present and future wheat wizards, Philippa Borrill and Nikolai Adamski. Christine and David Hill gave the farmers’ perspective on the challenges of wheat farming today.

 

 

Rowland Biffen at his desk with giant wheat ear

Rowland Biffen examines a giant ear of wheat staged by Cambridge University Agriculture students to playfully convey aspirations for the future of wheat breeding

So why celebrate Biffen? Biffen more than anyone else is associated with the establishment of modern plant breeding in Britain. Some of the principal organisations for crop improvement, especially the Plant Breeding Institute and the National Institute for Agricultural Botany at Cambridge, were established to accommodate his plant breeding and genetics. His two wheat varieties Little Joss (1910) and Yeoman (1916) were popular with farmers and his work on yellow rust resistance opened up the exciting prospect of uniting genetics with plant pathology. Though at the beginning Biffen had to contend with some teasing about his introduction of ‘bread studies’ to an ancient University, he ended up being dubbed the ‘wheat wizard’ and his standing with contemporaries secured him a knighthood. His Institute afterwards went on to establish the genetic basis of key traits and identify sources of variation to breed better crops, while also contributing to advances in crop science and plant breeding methods. His legacy continues in JIC’s Biffen Building today.

 

_DSC9279 Lab interior, where bread making qualities were studied

‘Bread studies’: bread making qualities were studied in the lab

 

More info:

For a brief sketch of Rowland Biffen and Plant Breeding Institute history, see http://www.trumpingtonlocalhistorygroup.org/subjects_PBIhistory.html

And the JIC Centenary timeline: https://www.jic.ac.uk/centenary/history-timeline.htm (entries for 1912, 1967, 1987, 1990, 1994).

Harvest Moon 21

Two recent University of Leeds PhD theses take a deeper look at the development of plant breeding in Britain, including Biffen’s role:

Berris Charnley PhD (2011)

http://ipbio.org/pdfs/papers/charnley-berris-agricultural-science-and-the-emergence-of-a-mendelian-system-in-britain-1880-1930.pdf

Dominic Berry PhD (2014)

https://www.academia.edu/7608288/WHOLE_THESIS_Genetics_Statistics_and_Regulation_at_the_National_Institute_of_Agricultural_Botany_1919-1969

 

For more information about the JIC seed bank (Germ Plasm Resources Unit) from which Megan sourced her historic wheat samples, see https://www.jic.ac.uk/research/germplasm-resources-unit/

 

For more information on today’s Wheat Improvement programme (a collaboration between five UK research institutes), see https://www.jic.ac.uk/research/wheat-improvement/our-science/

The John Innes Centre is responsible for the Landrace pillar of research.

 

A selection of the exhibition materials Megan designed can be seen permanently on display around Biffen’s desk in the JIC Conference Centre. We plan to re-use the portable elements in this exhibit in future JIC events.

 

 

 

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What did the John Innes do during the First World War?

This year’s excellent media coverage of the events and experiences of the First World War got me thinking about the John Innes and how the War had affected the men and women working here. We can’t really tell that story in photographs (how can you record an absence?), but Beatrice Bateson’s William Bateson: Naturalist (1928) was helpful in setting the scene and giving an entry into thoughts and feelings at that time, and there’s enough in the Annual Reports, staff records, letters, and other archives to tell a story.

Britain’s scientists contributed to the war effort in a number of ways from weapons development to food and medical research. The John Innes was a very young institute (it opened in 1910) and unlike in World War Two, had little to offer the government by way of plant research directly useful to the war effort. The John Innes story in 1914-18 is more about hearts and minds, the often overlooked impacts of the war on science and learning, and the sacrifice of individual careers and sometimes lives.

When War broke out William Bateson, the director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution was far away in Australia, presiding over a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Getting home involved a long sea voyage and William, his wife Beatrice and colleague Rebecca Saunders did not return to England until November 1914.

 

W Bateson in Australia 1914

Happier times: William and Beatrice Bateson and Rebecca Saunders on a railway platform in Australia

By this time Bateson found that the John Innes had already started to disperse. His dream of building a world leading institute for research in genetics was stalled, and he had to face the prospect of making do with meagre resources again. The young men who worked in the gardens and labs had started to go off to war, and the visiting scientists had also returned to their home countries. For example, Nikolai Vavilov, who had come to study cereal genetics with Bateson in 1913, had already packed up his rust-resistant wheat samples and rushed back to Russia by train. The books and botanical specimens he sent on by sea never reached him; the ship carrying them was sunk by a German mine. Dr Malinowski of Warsaw, who had only just arrived, also returned home a few days after the declaration of war.

William Bateson and Nikolai Vavilov

Nikolai Vavilov pictured with William Bateson

How should scientists respond to war? This is something Bateson gave quite a lot of thought to. He was amazed and shocked to find his contemporary scientists taken over by national prejudices. At first he didn’t expect international scientific relations to be affected. He regarded war as a commercial matter, perhaps mixed up with national feeling, but a lot of it ‘commerce in disguise’. He assumed that fellow scientists would feel the same; that they would bond together and rise above the international conflict.

But science was caught up in the hostilities. One of the immediate effects was the closing off of normal channels of information. Bateson found getting German scientific publications, which some regarded as ‘trading with the enemy’, suddenly difficult. He was furious that scientific reference libraries, which had stopped taking German journals, neglected to continue their sets even after the Armistice. Nor did he approve of the Government’s decision to shut the British museums to the public after 1st March 1916. Later he wrote angrily that this action had ‘gravely injured the cause of science and learning, and advertised to the world the contempt in which such Institutions are held in this country’. What, Bateson asked, would science do with the ‘succession in learning’ broken throughout Europe? Journals could eventually be replaced, but how many of the younger generation of potential or upcoming geneticists were tragically lost? (like Edinburgh University’s A. D. Darbishire, http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/towardsdolly/2013/11/11/remembering-arthur-dukinfield-darbishire-1879-1916/ ). Only a damaged eye prevented Vavilov from being called to active service in Russia and suffering the same fate.

 

The John Innes Annual Reports record the destinations of Bateson’s staff after they joined up. Mr G. O. Sherrard, who had just begun a Board of Agriculture research studentship on wheat in 1914, resigned in August and returned to military service as a Captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery. James Lesley (researching gooseberries and potatoes) went into the 5th (Reserve) Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment; laboratory attendant Alfred Emarton enlisted in the Garrison Artillery where he was soon promoted to Bombardier, then Corporal. Two of the student gardeners, D. Orchard and George Butler, enlisted in the 5th Surrey. Maurice Bailey left in 1915, resigning his research studentship to accept a Commission in R.F.A. It was impossible to fill the studentships vacated, and only one male researcher returned to John Innes after the War. You can read about Bateson’s plea to the Board of Agriculture to keep one of the last members of his scientific staff (E.J. Collins) in Simon Coleman’s blog http://archives.jic.ac.uk/2012/09/staffing-during-world-war-i/

 

 

The John Innes Garden staff  in 1912

The John Innes garden staff in 1912. M B Crane is in the middle row and J Holloway in the back row

Most of the garden staff of military age had also left by 1915. The two sub-foremen, Morley Benjamin Crane and Edward Allen, and the two remaining student gardeners (A B Thorn and A H Powell) left in the spring to enter munitions works. J. Holloway enlisted in the 1st Life Guards. By the end of the year Crane had enlisted in the Flying Corps and Thorn joined the Hampshire Regiment. Only one student gardener returned to complete his time as an ‘Exhibitioner’, after being rejected for military service on medical grounds. Bateson reported soberly ‘the work of the Institution had to be seriously cut down’. It was not only the loss of gardeners that hampered the experimental work. The Institute’s land had to be give over to vegetable growing; some of the produce was sold, but thousands of seedling vegetables were distributed free to local allotment holders.

Bateson’s women staff members were also doing their bit for the war effort. His sister-in-law Florence Durham started laboratory work at a military hospital at the end of the summer of 1915, beginning a new career with the Medical Research Committee (later Council); Miss Mitchell left to become an overseer in a munitions works. Dorothy Cayley resigned her studentship in 1916 to become a tool-setter at Vickers’ aeroplane factory. She did varied war work, including cutting bracken in Savernake Forest for Army horse bedding, and assisting with Royal Army Medical investigations on Tetanus at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. The women who stayed behind kept the John Innes running. After the male workforce had left on war service there were four women to every male on the depleted staff.  Women like Hilda Killby came to work in the experimental plots, so many ‘gardeners having gone off to make munitions’. By 1918 running the institute was increasingly difficult, with a scarcity of labour and materials of every kind.

The John Innes also had to manage for short periods without a Director. Bateson travelled to Rouen in France at Christmas 1916 under a scheme promoted by the Universities and the YMCA. The idea was to provide lectures to the troops to try to ‘ease their dreary lot’. Bateson’s first lecture, an introduction to the science of heredity, was not a success. Picture a long narrow room with no lighting except the lantern slide projector, Bateson wrote ‘I could never light up and see my audience … many crept away under cover of the darkness’. His later lectures went better, with a good proportion of interested hearers. He became ‘Rather sick of Preliminary Mendel’ which he regularly repeated, and looked forward to changing to Heredity of Sex, a lecture that apparently had his audience entranced and forgetting their supper! Ill-health cut Bateson’s stay in France short, but he went out again in January 1918. Though happy to contribute to raising troop morale (however odd it might be to think of genetics lectures as morale-boosting now), Bateson would not agree to the Ministry of Information’s request that he write propaganda about what Britain had been doing in genetics during the War. The idea was to counteract an impression abroad that scientific work was at a standstill in Britain. Bateson thought such chauvinism ‘incompatible with the spirit of science’.

So what happened to the John Innes staff members who had gone off to the front? Lt. Bailey and Capt. Lesley were awarded the Military Cross in 1916; Lesley was later reported as wounded and missing, but was finally located as a prisoner of war at Bad-Colberg in Germany. Lesley survived the war and returned to scientific research, but not to the John Innes. Gardeners D. Orchard and A. Lane were killed in action. Happily Sherrard, Emarton, Butler, Holloway and Crane came back safely after war ended. There was one death that was not announced in the John Innes Annual Report for 1918. To add to this year of sadness William and Beatrice’s eldest son John, age 20, was killed in October 1918, just 14 days before the Armistice. ‘He was a brave, good boy’ as Bateson wrote to a friend.

Bateson gave a public lecture on ‘Science and Nationality’ during the dark period of his grief, making his rhetorical question ‘is there a house where there is not one dead?’ especially poignant.  For him the lesson of biology was that ‘struggle and competition’ was the natural state of life, and that the vision of a war free world in the future ‘is an illusion’. He said he never doubted that it was the Government’s duty to go to war in 1914, and he accepted that in time of war ‘truth must be suppressed or garbled; history rewritten; the standards of candour and generosity suspended’. But he remained an idealist about academe: ‘We speak sometimes about science, art and letters as an international domain. More truly we should think of it as extra-national’. The full fascinating 27-page typescript of this lecture is preserved in the John Innes Historical Collections; a transcript was published by Beatrice Bateson’s book (pp. 356-370). An edited version of the address, which was given at the inaugural meeting of the Yorkshire Science Association, was published in the Edinburgh Review in 1919.

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