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atavism(ăt`əvizəm), the appearance in an individual of a characteristic not apparent in the preceding generation. At one time it was believed that such a phenomenon was thought to be a reversion of "throwback" to a hypothetical ancestral prototype. The term is seldom used today since science has shown that such abnormal characteristics can be explained by the inheritance of a pair of recessive genesgene,
the structural unit of inheritance in living organisms. A gene is, in essence, a segment of DNA that has a particular purpose, i.e., that codes for (contains the chemical information necessary for the creation of) a specific enzyme or other protein.
..... Click the link for more information. . See MendelMendel, Gregor Johann
, 1822–84, Austrian monk noted for his experimental work on heredity. He entered the Augustinian monastery in Brno in 1843, taught at a local secondary school, and carried out independent scientific investigations on garden peas and other plants until
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the appearance in organisms of features that are absent in their immediate ancestors but which did exist in very distant ancestors. An example of atavism could be the development of a caudal appendage in man, the appearance of two extra toes along the sides of the completely developed middle toe of the horse, or the development of pinnately compound leaves instead of phyllodes in the green wattle. Since to a certain degree individuals repeat the organizational features of their ancestors in the developmental process, a disturbance of normal development can lead to a situation in which the adult organism keeps for its entire life the ancestral features which normally appear in the embryo and usually disappear in the course of further development. An example of such atavism would be the appearance in man of a cervical fistula reminiscent of the gill slit of his mammalian ancestors, the fishes and amphibians. Polymastia in man (the formation of a larger than normal number of pairs of mammary glands), tridactylism in horses, and so forth, are also related to atavism. Atavism also includes the occurrence of features from distant ancestors in the regeneration of organs. In this instance, the organs regenerate with the features characteristic of the more ancient forms. Thus, in the regeneration of a lizard’s tail, the scale rings are sometimes formed in a more primitive shape. Upon regeneration of the anterior end of the body in certain annelids, head appendages are formed which are missing in the given form but which are inherent in its ancestors.
REFERENCEShimkevich, V. M. Biologicheskie osnovy zoologii. 5th ed., vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1923–25.
M. A. VORONTSOVA