Gregor Johann Mendel

Gregor Johann Mendel

Gregor Johann Mendel is a famous Austrian priest, biologist and scientist, who is considered to be “the father of modern genetics”. His scientific works and crossbreeding experiments resulted in a number of unprecedented revolutionary discoveries, which were later presented as the laws of inheritance and now are called after Mendel. He was a remarkable personality who will always remain in history as the founder of genetics, one of the most important and promising scientific fields of our times.

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Mendel was born in 1822 in a small Silesian town Heizendorf to a family of peasant farmer. In his early years Mendel developed a real interest for biology and botanic. During his study in local primary school he demonstrated unusual talent for math and science, therefore his teachers insisted on sending him to a higher school to continue education. Despite of quite limited financial recourses, Johann’s parents could raise the funds to support their son’s education in schools and in the Philosophical Institute in Olomouc (Olmütz).

But in 1943 due to the lack of money Johann made up his mind to enter the Augustinian monastery in Brno, which was a known center of education and scientific development. He took the name Gregor and started learning theology, teaching in a secondary school and working on his scientific experiments with plants in the monastery’s garden. His love to natural sciences was increasing, but his progress was relatively slow, because Mendel did not have a better educated mentor or adviser. That is why he could learn new things mostly form his practical experiments.

The main points of his interest were theories of evolution and studying varieties of different plants. Mendel used to carry out his simple tests, which included planting and comparing the offspring of various types of garden plants. Undoubtedly, such experiments used to take quite long time, that’s why they required a lot of patience and persistence from the young scientist, as well as enormous dedication to his ideas.

He demonstrated great success in theology and was about to receive doctoral degree. But in 1851 Mendel got a chance to join the University of Vienna and study a wide number of subjects under the supervision of such famous scientists as Doppler, Fenzl, Kner, and many others. He gained a lot of priceless knowledge and inspiration from his teachers and colleagues in the University. In 1853 Mendel was back to the monastery to continue his teaching career (though he did not have a teacher certificate) and to become an abbot.

Being under the influence of his theoretical studies of biology, Mendel continued his practical experiments in a new perspective.  He used 34 types of peas, thoroughly tested beforehand for genetic purity, trying to check out the opportunity to receive new genetic factors by crossbreeding. He was observing several inheritable traits of the plants and found out their “dominant” and “recessive” properties. He cultivated some specific breeds of peas and tested their breeding properties in some unusual environmental conditions. His aim was to find out the law of transmission of heredity traits from generation to generation.

Experiments with the peas lasted for more than 8 years. After all this titanic work and thousands of crossbreeding experiments Mendel could discover that the appearance of various characteristics of plants can be described by definite principles: heredity factors can be transmitted intact (not combined), every offspring has different sets of parental heredity factors, every parent transmits some “dominant” heredity factors, etc. In 1866 Mendel publicized the results of his experiments in the work “Experiments in Plant Hybridization”.

Unfortunately, the findings of an unknown monk from St. Thomas Monastery were largely ignored by his contemporaries. Only in the beginning of the 20th century, long after Abbot Mendel’s death, several scientists including De Vries, Tschermak and Correns verified his findings and underlined their importance. Therefore, Gregor Mendel gained back his place in history as a person, who managed to break into an unknown side of nature and solve one of the most significant problems of natural life: the problem of heredity.

References:

·         Maloney, F. P. (1996). Gregor Mendel. Willanova University. Retrieved June 30, 2007, from <http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mendel/gregor.htm>.
·         Mendel, Gregor Johann. (2004) The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. N.Y.: Columbia University Press.
·         Ree, S. Y. (2000, March 7). Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). Access Excellence. The National Health Museum. Retrieved June 30, 2007, from <http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/AB/BC/Gregor_Mendel.html>.

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