Gregor Mendel the Father of Genetics

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In 1802 a farmer called Anton Mendel lived in mid-Czechoslovakia, in a small village called Hyncice. After being in the war, Anton built a house and farmed his forty acres of land: ploughing, cultivating and trying to improve his stock of farm animals. Anton was interested in fruit growing. There he would experiment with new varieties of fruit and exchange grafts and advice with the priest in nearby Vrazne.

In 1818, Anton married Rosine, the daughter of a gardner in the village. In July 1822 Johann was born the second child and only son. When Johann attended school the schoolmaster realized Johann was smarter than the other boys. The schoolmaster persuaded Anton and Rosine to send him to a larger school. When Johann was eleven, he went to the Piarist College in Lipnik. But after a year in Lipnik, he was recommended for the Imperial Royal Gymnasium, a high school, in Opava.

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Johann was always graded first in his class and he qualified for the “humanities” classes of the upper school. But, by this time, Anton was unable to pay for his son’s education. So at age sixteen Johann became a private tutor to pay for his tuition. With all the work he had been doing and without enough food Johann became very ill. In 1839 he went back home to work in the fields. In 1840, he graduated high school with a certificate of excellence. After high school Johann wanted to study philosophy at the University Philosophical Institute of Olomouc but did not make it.

In 1841, Anton had to give up his farm. Anton gave Johann a small sum of money and Theresia some land. Theresia gave her share of property to Johann. So with his money and private tutoring, Johann was finally able to study philosophy at Olomouc. After studying philosophy for two years, Johann was exhausted and decided to enter into priesthood. On July14th, 1843, the Professor of Physics at Olomouc University, Friedrich Franz, wrote to a colleague at Brno, recommended Johann. So on October 9, 1843, Johann was admitted into the Augustinian monastery of Saint Thomas in Brno and took the name of Gregor.

The monastery of Saint Thomas was founded in 1359. It sat at the edge of the city of Brunn, surrounded by small houses. The building had one floor with an attic. At the end of the building was a small clock tower above the library. Below was a small garden. Gregor would do his experiments here. Mendel described himself studying these plants as: ” His special liking for this field of natural science deepened the more he had the opportunity to become familiar with it”.

The following year Mendel was able to extend his studies towards his owns interests. Mendel took courses in agriculture, apple and grape growing in particular, at the Philosophical Institute at Brno. In his fourth and final year of instruction, Mendel was studying the aspects of being a priest such as teaching the catechism and preaching. By then he was twenty-five years old.

In 1847, Mendel was made parish priest. But Mendel had problems as a parish priest. The Abbot sympathized with Mendel’s problems as parish priest. He gave him permission to work for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The Abbot then had Mendel appointed supply teacher to the Imperial Royal High School in Znojmo. On October 9, 1849 Mendel became a supply teacher. He taught Greek and elementary mathematics for twenty hours a week.

After being a supply teacher, Mendel became a student in the philosophical faculty in Vienna. Mendel attended Kner’s zoology course. He went to lectures in paleontology, systematic botany and plant physiology. The plant physiology lectures made the most impression. During the four terms at Vienna University, Mendel learned that plants and animals are composed of cells. He learned of experiments in plant hybridization. And he learned the methods of experimentation in physics.

In July 1853 he returned to the monastery. He was appointed supply teacher to the new Technical Modern School in Brno. For the next fourteen years, he taught physics and natural history. Before leaving Vienna, Mendel read a paper to the Zoological and Botanical Society on the moth Botys margaritalis, a pest of radishes. The following year he sent another paper on crop pests to the Society. It was a short description of the pea-weevil. He then was elected a member of the Brno Agricultural Society.

He started to make his own experiments in plant improvement on a small garden plot in the monastery. Soon, Mendel was crossing and selecting different varieties of peas and beans to improve their size and taste. By 1859, he had developed a variety of peas with bigger and sweeter seeds.

In 1857, Franz Unger became a member of the Society. Under the influence of Unger’s work, Mendel became interested in the cultivation of wild plants. Unger believed that species could change possibly by hybridization. Mendel repeated these experiments, bringing varieties of wild flowers into the monastery garden to grow under controlled conditions. Mendel supposedly told a colleague at school that “nature makes little progress in the formation of species in this way: hence it must be something somewhat different”. Mendel then decided to look for the something somewhat different in the outcome of hybridization experiments.

While beginning his experiments, Mendel brought the techniques of physics to the study of plant breeding. The laws of chance and of probability were applied to the process of fertilization. Mendel planned to count the results of hybrid crosses. Mendel needed a plant that had easily controlled self-fertilization and cross-fertilization so that there would be no difficulty in bringing about one or the other according to the plan of the experiment. So he chose the pea family because of the structure of the flowers. The cross-fertilization would be done by hand.

The peas were grown on a small garden plot behind the monastery building. To keep several experiments at the same time, the plants were crammed together growing over the fence and up trees. Mendel chose twenty-two varieties of peas that had characters that were easy to study. Mendel crossed plants with purple flowers and brown seed coats with plants with white flowers and white seed coats after proving that the color of the seed coat and of the flower was always the same on the one plant.

He crossed plants with flowers evenly distributed along the stalk with plants with flowers clustered at the tip. He crossed plants with smooth seeds with plants with wrinkled seeds. He crossed plants with yellow or orange seeds with plants with seeds of a more or less green tint. He crossed plants with fat pods with plants with shrunk pods. He crossed plants with green pods with plants with yellow or red pods.

Mendel proposed to call the character that preponderated, the dominant character and the other, that did not show in hybrids, the recessive. Mendel was the first to distinguish between the outward appearance of a plant and the inward composition. In 1866, Mendel’s contribution to the Brno Natural History Society was published. And, by 1866, Mendel’s contributions to biological theory were finished. Today, scientists now know why pea seeds are round or wrinkled. Mendel’s paper on peas answered many questions about heredity.

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