Wilhelm Ludvig Johannsen studied plants and helped found the field of genetics, contributing methods and concepts to the study of heredity around the turn of the twentieth century in Denmark. His experiments on heredity and variation in plants influenced the methods and techniques of geneticists, and his distinction between the genotype of an organism-its hereditary disposition-and its phenotype-its observable characteristics-remains at the core of contemporary biology. Johannsen criticized biological explanations that relied on concepts such as vitalism and teleology. For an alternative, he advocated a realist and materialist approach to biology, but one that did not attempt to reduce biological phenomena to the laws of physics and chemistry.

During the mid-nineteenth century, Johann Gregor Mendel experimented with pea plants to develop a theory of inheritance. In 1843, while a monk in the Augustian St Thomas's Abbey in Brünn, Austria, now Brno, Czech Repubic, Mendel examined the physical appearance of the abbey's pea plants (Pisum sativum) and noted inconsistencies between what he saw and what the blending theory of inheritance, a primary model of inheritance at the time, predicted. With his experiments, which he recored in "Versuche uber Pflanzenhybriden" ("Experiments in Plant Hybridization") in 1865, Mendel discredited the blending theory of inheritance, and from them he proposed laws for inheritance patterns. Despite the fact that Mendel's work did not define all aspects of inheritance, his ideas and laws contributed to later concepts of traits, specifically that offspring inherit traits from their parents via genes, that an offspring has at least two genetic factors for any given qualitative trait, and that the offspring inherits the genetic factors in equal proportion from both parents.

The endothelium is the layer of cells lining the blood vessels in animals. It weighs more than one kilogram in adult humans, and it covers a surface area of 4000 to 7000 square meters. The endothelium is the cellular interface between the circulating blood and underlying tissue. As the medium between these two sets of tissues, endothelium is part of many normal and disease processes throughout the body. The endothelium responds to signals from its surrounding environment to help regulate functions like the resistance that blood vessels need to pump blood through the body (vasomotor tone), the policing of substances trying to enter or exit the blood vessel (blood vessel permeability), and the ability of blood to clot (hemostasis). In addition to diseases like atherosclerosis, endothelium has been indicated as a component in pathologies like cancer, asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, and sepsis. The shape, size, and appearance of endothelial cells, called their phenotypes, vary depending upon which part of the body the cells are from, a property called phenotypic heterogeneity. The endothelium, its properties, and its responses to stimuli are governed largely by the local environment of the cells.

Henry Herbert Goddard was a psychologist who conducted research on intelligence and mental deficiency at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Boys and Girls in Vineland, New Jersey during the early twentieth century. In 1908, Goddard brought French psychologist Alfred Binet and physician Theodore Simon’s intelligence test to the US and used it to investigate intellectual disability in children at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Boys and Girls. Goddard also wrote a book in 1912 called The Kallikaks: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, claiming that traits like mental deficiency were heritable traits. His observations and research led Goddard to advocate for sterilization and segregation of the intellectually disabled, which were ideas that reflected the emerging eugenics movement in the US, during the early nineteenth century. Although by the end of his life, psychologists largely dismissed Goddard’s work, schools and the US military used Goddard’s version of Binet and Simon’s intelligence test to identify mental deficiency.

In 1912, Henry Herbert Goddard published The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, hereafter The Kallikak Family, in which he argues that people inherit feeble-mindedness, which is presently known as intellectual disability. Feeble-mindedness, according to Goddard, is the source of, what he refers to as, degeneracy, including behaviors such as alcoholism, criminal behavior, prostitution, and sexual promiscuity. At the time Goddard wrote his book, many researchers questioned whether people inherited what they considered bad traits, such as feeble-mindedness, criminality, and immorality, and what people could do to get rid of such bad traits. Those ideas reflected the emerging eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. In The Kallikak Family, Goddard explores ideas central to eugenics, including how people can increase good traits and reduce bad traits in the population, For decades, supporters of eugenics cited The Kallikak Family as proof that people inherit such traits, but more recent investigations have discredited Goddard's research as bad science, poorly conceived and biased.

Muriel Wheldale Onslow studied flowers in England with genetic and biochemical techniques in the early twentieth century. Working with geneticist William Bateson, Onslow used Mendelian principles and biochemical analysis together to understand the inheritance of flower colors at the beginning of the twentieth century. Onslow's study of snapdragons, or Antirrhinum majus, resulted in her description of epistasis, a phenomenon in which the phenotypic effect of one gene is influenced by one or more other genes. She discovered several biochemicals related to color formation. Onslow's methodology also partly contributed to the establishment of the field of chemical genetics.

Wilhelm Johannsen in Denmark first proposed the distinction between genotype and phenotype in the study of heredity in 1909. This distinction is between the hereditary dispositions of organisms (their genotypes) and the ways in which those dispositions manifest themselves in the physical characteristics of those organisms (their phenotypes). This distinction was an outgrowth of Johannsen's experiments concerning heritable variation in plants, and it influenced his pure line theory of heredity. While the meaning and significance of the genotype-phenotype distinction has been a topic of debate-among Johannsen's contemporaries, later biological theorists, and historians of science-many consider the distinction one of the conceptual pillars of twentieth century genetics. Moreover some have used it to characterize the relationships between studies of development, genetics, and evolution.

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