Selection within organisms in the nineteenth century: Wilhelm Roux's complex legacy.
ABSTRACT Selectionism, or the extension of darwinian chance/selection dynamics beyond the individual level, has a long history in biological thought. It has generated important theories in immunology or neurology, and turns out to be a convincing framework to account for the intrinsic stochastic nature of core events in cellular biology. When looking back at the intellectual origins of selectionism, the essay by the German embryologist Wilhelm Roux, Der Kampf der Theile im Organismus (The Struggle of the Parts in the Organism - 1881) might be one, if not the earliest reference after the darwinian revolution. It describes the individual as a multilevel structure, where each level results from a 'darwinian' struggle of its parts (molecules, cells, tissues, organs). But Roux's theory, far from being a simple extension of natural selection, has complex and even conflictual relationships with darwinism. This essay is worth rediscovering as a subtle historical testimony of the evolutionary and developmental life sciences debates of its time. Moreover, some of its theses may also enrich some current debates among evolutionary biologists over levels of selection, and among cellular and molecular biologists over the status of determinism in biology today.