Gregor Mendel and Heredity. Austrian Scientist Famous for Experiments in Plant Hybridization. Brief biography of priest and scientist Gregor Mendel who laid the foundation for the modern science of genetics and discovered the Laws of Heredity.
Gregor Mendel was an Augustinian monk who discovered the principles of heredity that revolutionized plant cultivation. He started plant experiments in the monastery gardens and became the pioneer of the modern science of genetics. Mendel authored Experiments with Plant Hybrids.
Early Life of Gregor Mendel
Gregor Johann Mendel was born on July 22, 1822, in Hyncice, Silesia (now Czech Republic), son of Anton and Rosine Mendel. The young Mendel performed well at school at this point already showing interest in natural science.
In 1843, he entered an Augustinian monastery in Brünn, Brno and trained for the priesthood. In 1847, he became an Augustinian friar at St. Thomas monastery and took the name Gregor. The monks did not only study theology, but also philosophy and the natural sciences. The monastery was also the center of learning and research. Aside from an extensive library, it had a botanical garden and a herbarium.
Augustinian Priest to Natural Scientist
Mendel began teaching in Znaim’s secondary school. He took the exam for teacher certification but failed. At the age of 29, Mendel studied at the University of Vienna, specializing in mathematics and biology. After two years of studying the sciences including botany, chemistry, physics and zoology, he again failed to pass the certification exam.
In 1854, he returned to Brünn and became a teacher. At the monastery, Cyrill Franz Napp, the abbot of St. Thomas, encouraged study in the natural sciences and plant cultivation.
Attraction for Garden Peas
In 1856, Mendel began the hybridization project that eventually paved way to understanding genetics. In so doing, he laid the concept of “Mendelian Genetics” to the science of heredity that include classical genetics.
In his experiments, he pollinated common garden peas and kept notes of the seven characteristics he wanted to trace in both the parent and child generations. He used approximately 28,000 pea plants, and made 287 crosses between 70 different purebred plants. A purebred plant when bred with itself produces plants identical to itself.
Although his conclusions were later disproved, during his day he believed that his careful record-keeping and analysis were conclusive enough. His findings were as follows:
- Inherited characteristics are the result of factors occurring in pairs.
- An offspring receives one-half of a paired factor from each parent.
- Some factors are dominant and can mask a recessive factor in the pair.
In 1865, Mendel presented his findings to the Natural Science Society by using mathematical construction which was advanced in his day. The society hardly minded his presentation. Without losing heart, he published his paper titled Experiments in Plant Hybridization in 1866. This too hardly got any response.
He continued his research, including in the area of apiculture (or beekeeping,) meteorology, and astronomy.
Mendel’s Influence and Legacy
He was elected abbot in 1868 and held the position until his death in January 6, 1884. This meant he had little time to continue his research. To recognize scientific accomplishment and religious conviction, the Mendel Medal is awarded by Villanova University.
Mendel was far ahead of other botanists in his day. He had various honors either as a member, director or founder of scientific societies. Almost two decades after his death, his work was rediscovered and revived by German Carl Correns, Austrian Erich von Tschermak-Seysenegg, and Dutch Hugo de Vries.