Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 215–264 | Cite as

Toyama Kametaro and Vernon Kellogg: Silkworm Inheritance Experiments in Japan, Siam, and the United States, 1900–1912



Japanese agricultural scientist Toyama Kametaro’s report about the Mendelian inheritance of silkworm cocoon color in Studies on the Hybridology of Insects (1906) spurred changes in Japanese silk production and thrust Toyama and his work into a scholarly exchange with American entomologist Vernon Kellogg. Toyama’s work, based on research conducted in Japan and Siam, came under international scrutiny at a time when analyses of inheritance flourished after the “rediscovery” of Mendel’s laws of heredity in 1900. The hybrid silkworm studies in Asia attracted the attention of Kellogg, who was concerned with how experimental biology would be used to study the causes of natural selection. He challenged Toyama’s conclusions that Mendelism alone could explain the inheritance patterns of silkworm characters such as cocoon color because they had been subject to hundreds of years of artificial selection, or breeding. This examination of the intersection of Japanese sericulture and American entomology probes how practical differences in scientific interests, societal responsibilities, and silkworm materiality were negotiated throughout the processes of legitimating Mendelian genetics on opposite sides of the Pacific. The ways in which Toyama and Kellogg assigned importance to certain silkworm properties show how conflicting intellectual orientations arose in studies of the same organism. Contestation about Mendelism took place not just on a theoretical level, but the debate was fashioned through each scientist’s rationale about the categorization of silkworm breeds and races and what counted as “natural.” This further mediated the acceptability of the silkworm not as an experimental organism, but as an appropriately “natural” insect with which to demonstrate laws of inheritance. All these shed light on the challenges that came along with the use of agricultural animals to convincingly articulate new biological principles.


sericulture silkworm inheritance Mendelism natural selection Darwinism breeding entomology silk cocoons Japan Siam Asia Bombyx mori Toyama Kametaro Vernon Kellogg naturalness artificiality passing 


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This paper is based on a presentation delivered at the 2007 meeting of the International Society for the Historical, Philosophical and Social Studies of Biology. I would like to thank fellow session participants Barbara Kimmelman, Jonathan Harwood, the late Philip Pauly, Theodore Varno, and the session attendees for their helpful comments and questions. I am grateful to Will Provine, Bruce Lewenstein, Suman Seth, Vic Koschmann, Michael Lynch, Nicole Nelson, Rebecca Tally, Katie Proctor, and Anna Geltzer at Cornell University, and three anonymous reviewers for their critical feedback and suggestions to the manuscript. Research for this paper was made possible thanks to many individuals and institutions in Japan and Thailand, including Toru Shimada, Amornrat Promboon, Netnapa Chingkitti, Warangkana Narksen, Pornpinee Boonbundal, the late Yataro Tazima, Satoshi Takeda, Yasuko Moriwaki, the Queen Sirikit Institute of Sericulture, the Dainippon Silk Foundation, and the National Institute of Agrobiological Science.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science & Technology StudiesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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