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.
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
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
He was a scientists' scientist.
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Update: June 2012