ESP.ORG » Foundations

Last Updated: 29 Sep 2013


ESP Foundations

ESP Foundations Series

The original WWW.ESP.ORG website was created in 1993 to share information and documents pertinent to the Foundations of Classical Genetics. Plans are now underway to offer foundational materials for several additional areas.


Although the problems of inheritance have fascinated observers since the beginning of recorded history, a systematic, scientific examination of heredity only began in the late nineteenth century, then exploded as an intellectual field shortly after 1900. The transformation of genetics from an observational, anecdotal endeavor to a true science with rigorous, deep theoretical foundations, and with profound explanatory power occurred very rapidly.

Classical Genetics, the study of patterns of inheritance, began with the rediscovery of Mendel's work in 1900 and flourished through the first half of the century. By 1950, however, classical genetics was a mature discipline and the driving unanswered question for genetics had become, What is the chemical nature of the gene? With the elucidation of DNA structure in 1953, molecular genetics began, culminating in the amazing successes of the Human Genome Project (HGP) nearly fifty years later.

Although the insights and results from modern molecular biology far outstrip the explanatory power of classical genetics, classical genetics still provides the biological context for understanding all of genetics. For this reason, a familiarity with classical genetics is important for biologists and lay persons alike, if they are to appreciate the new genetic findings that are puring ourt of the scientific literature at an accelerating pace .


Two of the greatest biological discoveries of the nineteenth century were the formulation of the concept of evolution by natural selection and the establishment of the foundations for classical genetics. Since both of these subjects deal with the transmission of hereditary information from generation to generation, some basic materials from the foundations of evolutionary biology have been part of the WWW.ESP.ORG website from the beginning. Now we would like to expand those holdings into a more systematic and comprehensive collection.

Biological diversity is itself a foundational part of evolution and genetics. Without genetic diversity, all individuals would resemble their parents (except insofar as random developmental variation induced change) and evolution would be impossible. Therefore, an understanding of biodiversity is critical for an understanding of genetics and evolutionary biology.

Recent advances in genomics and metagenomics have shown that our understanding of the Earth's biodiversity has been biased towards the diversity seen among macro-scale multi-cellular organisms. Now we know that the diversity seen among single-celled organisms, especially the bacteria, archaea, and viruses, dwarfs the diversity among multi-cellular organisms.

One of the first offerings at WWW.ESP.ORG was a collection of short stories by Herman Melville — The Piazza Tales. This was included because one of the short stories &mdash The Encantadas — offered another nineteenth-centiry view of the Galapagos Islands, albeit this one from substantially later than when Darwin first visited.

As it turned out, a story from The Piazza Tales — Benito Cereno — quickly became one of the most popular links on the site, as a result of its being assigned in many classes on American Literature.

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