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Gregor Mendel (1822 - 1884)
Nature Bulletin No. 334-A   March 1, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

(1822 - 1884.

On fine summer days almost a century ago, anyone passing the Augustinian monastery near Brunn, in Moravia -- now Brno in Czechoslovakia -- would have been puzzled by the doings of a short stocky monk working along the wall in a narrow strip of garden. It is hard to realize how far ahead of his time was this priest who kept his faith and his science in separate watertight compartments of his mind. Now that strip of soil has been marked as a historical spot by a monument to him -- Gregor Mendel.

Clinging to stakes, tree branches and stretched strings were garden peas of many different kinds: some with violet flowers, others with white; some tall plants, others dwarf. As he moved from plant to plant, his blue eyes intent behind gold-rimmed glasses, he would open each blossom with fine forceps, remove the pollen-bearing anthers and, with a camel's hair brush, dust its stigma with pollen from another carefully-chosen plant. Each flower was then labeled, covered with a little bag to keep out bees which might bring other pollen, and a record made in his notebook in precise German script like copperplate engraving.

By keeping careful pedigrees of strains of hybrid peas -- "my children", he called them -- year after year, he found that different seed colors, seed textures (such as smooth and wrinkled), flower characters and growth habits were inherited as pure units, independently, and reappeared in following generations in certain ratios which could be predicted mathematically. He later carried on similar experiments with many other kinds of plants -- such as beans, columbine, snapdragon, hawkweed and fruit trees -- and also with bees and mice. His "mendelian rules" laid the foundation for the exact study of hereditary qualities: genetics, as we call it today.

Johann Mendel, of mixed German and Slav peasant stock, was born on July 22, 1822, in Sudeten Village of Heinzendorf. His family somehow managed to keep him in school until, at 21, he entered the monastery, at Brunn, which was an intellectual center with many teachers having scientific or artistic interests. As a novice, according to custom, he took another name: "Gregor". At 25 he was ordained a priest and had to learn the Czech tongue but found parish duties far from congenial, so he was appointed a teacher, attended Vienna University for three years of advanced training in science, and returned to spend 14 years as a teacher of physics and natural history in the Brunn Modern School. After he was elected prelate (abbot) of his monastery, in 1868, he was obliged to gradually abandon plant breeding and most of his other scientific interests.

Besides heredity, he was deeply interested in botany, horticulture, farming, geology, sunspots and meteorology. He made some notable contributions to the study of tornadoes. Partly because science was not far enough advanced to understand or use them, and partly because his reports were published only in the proceedings of a local society, his discoveries were "lost" until long after his death. He once said: "My time will come ". It did.

In 1900, three botanists and plant breeders working independently in Belgium, Germany and Austria, each rediscovered Mendel's laws of heredity. Mendelism has become the central theme of modern biological research. He had the rare faculty -- so essential in science -- of planning and carrying out a simple clear-cut experiment to answer a definite question.

He was a scientists' scientist.

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