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Polygenes and Oligogenes


IN a recent communication1, I suggested that we can consider embryonic development in terms of two types of process ; on one hand, processes which 'switch' the developing tissues into some one of a number of alternative paths, and on the other hand, the 'buffering' processes by which those paths are defined. Mather2 afterwards attempted to develop this idea by identifying the genes which act in a buffering manner with his so-called 'polygenes' and the genes acting by switch mechanisms with 'oligogenes'—a new word which he coined to include the genes with comparatively large effects normally studied in genetic laboratories. I wish to show that this identification cannot be sustained and has only been suggested by extremely confused thinking.


  1. 1

    Waddington, C. H., NATURE, 150, 563 (1942); see also "Organisers and Genes" (Cambridge, 1940).

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  2. 2

    Mather, K., NATURE, 151, 68 (1943).

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  3. 3

    Waddington, C. H., J. Gen. (in the Press).

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WADDINGTON, C. Polygenes and Oligogenes. Nature 151, 394 (1943).

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