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RE: Explain the meaning of morphology and Morphological

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Posted by: johnscanlon at Mon Oct 24 21:36:07 2005  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by johnscanlon ]  
   

>>I can't seem to find a GOOD definition of these two words relative to biology.
>> Also, what is the meaning and history of the word morph-.
>> And, how does in differ from mutant?

The root 'morph(o)-' is from Greek 'morphos' meaning shape or form ('forma' in Latin has the same meaning and may be cognate - i.e. the same word in the ancestral Indo-European - though the inferred switcheroo of consonants would be irregular)

'Morphology' refers to the study of shape or form, and in biology means the description and comparison of the shape and arrangement of body structures both internal and external, macroscopic ('gross morphology') and microscopic. Internal morphology can also be called 'anatomy', which literally refers to the act of 'cutting up' specimens for study. Look up the list of titles in any issue of 'Journal of Morphology' to see what (biological) morphologists do.

'Morphological' is just the regular adjectival form of the noun, which can be used in all the same senses and contexts as the noun (e.g. referring to 'form' in linguistics, musicology, geology etc. as well as biology).

By extension, we refer to the 'morphology' of an animal as the set of observable features of shape, colour, size, number of repeated parts etc. (i.e. if we say that the subject matter of morphology is morphology, the senses of the word are distinct and the statement is true)

I'm not sure of the actual history of 'morph' as used by fanciers of inbred domesticates, but I suspect it is a back-formation from the taxonomic or population-genetic use of 'monomorphic', 'dimorphic', 'polymorphic' etc. in reference to having one or more distinct modes of variation within a natural population.

'Mutant' and 'mutation' are terms of early C20 genetics that have been widely misunderstood and misapplied by nearly all kinds of persons. In Latin, 'mutare' just means to change, and 'mutation' (in genetics) means a change of any kind in the somatic or germ-line genetic material of a cell or individual. A 'mutant' is an individual (or cell line) carrying such a (recent) change; a 'mutant allele' is a copy of the gene with the change (as opposed to the 'wild type' allele). There may or may not be any phenotypic (observable) effect of any particular mutation in organisms carrying either single or double copies, i.e. the 'mutant' phenotype may not be distinguishable from the wild type. Or it may be different enough to be lethal in the egg, observable but selectively neutral (in the wild), or beneficial for survival or reproduction.

As well as referring to a single event and its product, we can refer to 'mutation' as the ongoing process of changes in genes as far as they are initiated at the molecular level. Mutation provides the raw material for natural selection (this is the core of the 'neo-Darwinian' synthesis in evolutionary theory; synthesis is Greek for 'putting together', in this case of natural selection with genetics), together producing change in populations of genes and genomes (and morphologies) over short and long time scales. World without end. Amen.

As for how they're used in the trade, you'll have to wait for an answer from a breeder. It can't all be about brand names and spin; possibly the purpose is to distinguish naturally occurring, viable 'morphs' from variants not observed, or not viable, in wild populations (albinos, dicephalics, ...)
-----
John D. Scanlon
Riversleigh Fossil Centre
Outback at Isa
Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia
riversleigh@outbackatisa.com.au


   

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