Introduction - The Inheritance of Variation

The Ford Bronco came to a stop and generated a cloud of fine dust that blew 100 yards or so with the southern breeze into the traffic on Huntington Avenue. Regular travelers of that street taking a quick glance through the dust would see a routine play out that was familiar to them. Dr. Jim Specht, a geneticist at the University of Nebraska, would pile out of his Bronco with a notebook and head deliberately into a soybean field. Hours later spectators would see Dr. Specht in the same field. Perhaps he would be bending down for a closer look at a plant or pausing to write something in his notebook. “That guy spends hours out there, what’s he looking for?” they would wonder.

Genetic variation was what Dr. Specht’s keen eyes were diligently searching for. The field contained thousands of soybean plants that were the subjects of a carefully planned and implemented experiment designed to reveal some understanding about the control of traits in soybean. The experimental design was a classical approach used by many scientists interested in understanding how variation in traits is controlled and inherited.

A soybean plot. (IPhoto by P. Hain)