Darwin’s stuffed pigeons, the letter which first coined the term ‘genetics’ and a paper by Crick and Watson which helped decode DNA all feature in the latest film to celebrate Cambridge University Library’s 600th anniversary. 

Darwin understood that natural variations, could over time, give rise to completely new forms.

Alison Pearn

The University Library is celebrating its 600th anniversary with an exhibition of priceless treasures communicating 4,000 years of human thought. As part of the celebrations, they have commissioned six films on the six distinct themes featured in the exhibition Lines of Thought.

In the latest film, we travel from Darwin to DNA, demonstrating how Cambridge and the Cambridge collections have been crucial to the history of how we have understood heredity.  

From Darwin’s provisional hypothesis of pangenesis to William Bateson’s work on animal variation, right the way through to Crick, Watson and Franklin, Cambridge has been at the forefront of understanding our place in the world.

Dr Alison Pearn, who curated the Darwin to DNA theme of Lines of Thought, said: “Darwin understood that natural variations, could over time, give rise to completely new forms and this is clearly demonstrated by the stuffed pigeons we have in the exhibition: the rock dove and the almond tumbler. The almond tumbler was one of Darwin’s favourite birds and you are able to see very clearly the differences between the two.

“We also have on display Darwin’s draft of the hypothesis of pangenesis, which is very much a tentative working idea for how variation might be passed on through generations. It’s a model for how inheritance might work.”

Other objects in the exhibition and film include a watercolour of Darwin staring at his ape predecessors in the Gallery of Ancestors, the working notes of Rosalind Franklin, and the 1905 letter by William Bateson where he first coins the term ‘genetics’ in its modern sense.

Added Pearn: “Bateson spent his career studying variation and said that the laws of inheritance would change man’s outlook on the world more than any advance in the history of knowledge. We are thrilled to have his work and so many other world-class exhibits on display at Cambridge University Library this year.”

Lines of Thought runs until September 30, 2016. Entry is free. To see the other films in the series, visit our YouTube channel.

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