Gregor Mendel and the Rules of Inheritance

Gregor Mendel was a scientist, Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas' Abbey in Brno, Margraviate of Moravia.

Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884)

On February 8, 1865, German-speaking Silesian scientist and Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel publishes his “Versuche über Pflanzenhybride” (Experiments on Plant Hybridization) in which he describes his experiments with peas, which later became the foundation of the so-called Mendelian inheritance of genetics.

Mendel grew up in a farmer’s family and cultivated bees from early ages. From 1840 to 1843, he studied practical and theoretical philosophy and physics at the Philosophical Institute of the University of Olomouc, taking another year off because of illness. He became a friar in part because it enabled him to obtain an education without having to pay for it himself. As the son of a struggling farmer, the monastic life, in his words, spared him the “perpetual anxiety about a means of livelihood.” He was given the name Gregor when he joined the Augustinian friars. When Mendel entered the Faculty of Philosophy, the Department of Natural History and Agriculture was headed by Johann Karl Nestler who conducted extensive research of hereditary traits of plants and animals, especially sheep. Upon recommendation of his physics teacher Friedrich Franz, Mendel entered the Augustinian St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno and began his training as a priest. Mendel worked as a substitute high school teacher. In 1850, he failed the oral part, the last of three parts, of his exams to become a certified high school teacher. In 1851, he was sent to the University of Vienna so that he could get more formal education. There, he studied physics with Christian Doppler and anatomy with Franz Unger.[5]

While living at the Abby, Mendel started his first systematic crossing attempts with peas around 1856. He observed their properties and chose the one’s that were easily to differentiate. Mendel managed to grow over 12,000 hybrids and was able to describe his discoveries on the splitting of their characteristics. He settled on studying seven traits that seemed to inherit independently of other traits: seed shape, flower color, seed coat tint, pod shape, unripe pod color, flower location, and plant height. Until 1863, Mendel grew 28,000 plants and established his today well known Rules of Inheritance. His scientific publication followed in 1865, but unfortunately Mendel’s remarkable research results remained almost unknown for several years. Mendel gave lectures about his findings and even sent his publications to several scientists. He started communicating with the Swiss botanist Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli, who unfortunately did not recognize the importance of Mendel’s achievements.

After he was elevated as abbot in 1868, his scientific work largely ended, as Mendel became overburdened with administrative responsibilities, especially a dispute with the civil government over its attempt to impose special taxes on religious institutions. Mendel died on 6 January 1884, at the age of 61.

Around 1900, several scientists from across Europe performed similar experiments and came to the same conclusion as Gregor Mendel, and his reputation grew posthumously. It was finally noticed, how important Mendel’s experiments and his very accurately performed statistical analysis were. It was also noticed how important Mendel’s findings were in order to support Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

At yovisto academic video search, you may be interested in the video lecture Mendel, Hardy, Weinberg by Mike Moser at Berkeley.

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