Best known for his classification of invertebrate animals in seven volumes, Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertebres (1815-22), Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a French biologist who also proposed that acquired traits were inheritable, also known as Lamarckism. Some 50 years before Darwin’s publication on “Natural Selection”, Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposed that characteristics that were “needed’ were acquired (or diminished) during an organism’s lifetime and then were passed onto the offspring. He used as an example the giraffe - through stretching to reach tall trees, they make their necks longer, and then pass on longer necks to their offspring.
Darwin’s theory of natural selection and subsequently Mendelian genetics were thought to disprove Lamarckism. However, the new field of epigenetics has highlighted the possibility that inheritable traits may be acquired by a previous generation, somewhat vindicating Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
Several other places to read more about Lamarckism and epigenetics include:
- New Scientist Article: Rewriting Darwin: The new non-genetic inheritance
- GEN Article: Epigenetics and Reinventing Lamarck
- Science Daily