Gregor Mendel was a German speaking scientist who is famous for his pea plant experiments which discovered how hereditary characteristics are transferred from generation to generation. His findings were rejected during his time and it was several decades after his death that he was credited for his revolutionary discovery. Here are 10 interesting facts about the life and accomplishments of the Father of Modern Genetics.

 

#1 He worked as a gardener and studied beekeeping in his childhood

Born as Johann Mendel on July 22, 1822 in the village of Heinzendorf in the Austrian Empire, Gregor was the second of three children of Anton and Rosine Mendel. The German speaking Mendel family had owned a small farm for over a century, on which they lived and worked. Johann spent his early years in rural settings. He worked as a gardener and studied beekeeping in his childhood. The local priest recognized Johann’s academic talents and persuaded his parents to send Johann to school when he was 11.

Gregor Mendel
Gregor Mendel

 

#2 He is an alumnus of what today is known as Palacký University, Olomouc

After finishing grammar school in 1840, Mendel joined the Faculty of Philosophy of University of Olomouc (Olomouc, Czech Republic). His family was not able to support him financially and Mendel had to tutor students to make ends meet. He suffered from serious depression and had to return home to recover. Yet he excelled in his studies, especially in physics and mathematics. Due to his illness he took a year longer to complete the two-year program in 1843.

Philosophical Faculty of the Palacky University
Philosophical Faculty of the Palacky University in Olomouc in 2010

 

#3 He took the name Gregor upon entering religious life

The Mendel family expected Johann to take over the family farm as he was the only son. However Mendel decided to be a monk probably because it allowed him to escape poverty and continue his education without paying for it himself. At the University of Olomouc, Mendel was among the favorite pupils of Friedrich Franz, who was professor of physics and applied mathematics. Franz and Mendel later became friends. It was on the suggestion of Franz that Johann enrolled as a monk with the Augustinian Order of St Thomas in Brno, Moravia. It was here that he was given the name Gregor by which he is famous today.

The Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas
The Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas, Brno

 

#4 Despite attempting twice, he failed to become a certified teacher

Gregor Mendel statue in Brno
Gregor Mendel’s statue in the courtyard of St. Thomas Abbey, Brno

Apart from training as a priest, Mendel worked as a substitute high school teacher. In 1850, he appeared for the examination to become a certified high school teacher but failed. The following year he was sent to the University of Vienna. Here he studied under Austrian physicist Christian Doppler, who is famous for his Doppler Effect. He also learned anatomy and physiology of plants and how to use a microscope under botanist Franz Unger. In 1853, Mendel returned to the monastery in Brno and was again given a teaching position. In 1856, he attempted to become a certified teacher but failed for the second time.

#5 His famous experiments were conducted on peas

In 1854, Abbot Cyril Napp allowed Gregor to conduct experiments on the transmission of hereditary characters in plants in the monastery’s 2 hectares (4.9 acres) garden. For several reasons including presence of numerous distinct varieties, ease of culture and control of pollination; Mendel chose to conduct his studies with the edible pea (Pisum sativum). He looked at seven different characteristics in peas, including plant height, seed color and whether they were wrinkly or smooth. Call it intuition or luck, in peas the “particles of inheritance” are strung out on seven pairs of chromosomes, though Mendel never figured this out.

The seven characteristics observed by Mendel
The seven characteristics observed by Mendel

 

#6 Gregor Mendel is most famous for his 3:1 ratio

Mendel crossed varieties of peas that differed in one trait, like a plant with long stem was crossed with one that had a short stem. He found that the result wasn’t something in between but was plants that were all tall. In Mendel’s terms, one character was dominant and the other recessive. Furthermore when the hybrid plants were crossed, the recessive character reappeared and there were three times as many offspring that were tall as were short. This discovery of 3:1 ratio of what we now know as dominant and recessive genes is perhaps Mendel’s most important contribution.

Dominant and recessive phenotypes
Dominant and recessive phenotypes – (1) Parental generation; (2) F1 generation; (3) F2 generation

 

#7 His work was rejected and didn’t bring him any fame or success

Gregor Mendel first presented his findings at two meetings of the Natural History Society of Brno in Moravia in early 1865. His paper on the subject, which was titled Experiments on Plant Hybridization, was published in the society’s journal the following year. At the time his work was rejected by the scientific community. The vast significance of Mendel’s work was not realized till 1900 when his findings were rediscovered by Hugo de Vries and Carl Correns, after Mendel’s death and 35 years after the publication of his paper.

 

#8 He became abbot in 1868

In 1868, Mendel was elected abbot of his monastery. His failing eyesight and the load of administrative work due to his elevation prevented Mendel from continuing his scientific work. He also became involved in a dispute with the authorities over their attempt to impose taxes on religious institutions. His later years were painful as he suffered from Bright disease, which is inflammation of the structures in the kidney that produce urine. Gregor Mendel died on 6 January 1884 in Brno. He was 61 years old.

Abbot Gregor Mendel Portrait
Oil Painting of Abbot Gregor Mendel

 

#9 His findings are now known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance

Thomas Hunt Morgan
Thomas Hunt Morgan

Allele is one of the numerous alternate forms of the same gene. The laws proposed by Mendel as a result of his experiments are now known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. The “First Law” or Law of Segregation states that when sperm and egg unite at fertilization, each contributes its allele, restoring the paired condition in the offspring. The “Second Law” or Law of Independent Assortment states that each pair of allele segregates independently of the other pairs during gamete formation. The “Third Law” or Law of Dominance states that recessive alleles will always be masked by dominant alleles.

#10 Gregor Mendel is known as the Father of Modern Genetics

After rediscovery of his theories, Mendel’s reputation grew exponentially. Combined with the 1915 Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory of inheritance of Nobel Prize winner Thomas Hunt Morgan, Mendel’s theories form the core of classical genetics. The combination, in the 1930s and 1940s, of Mendel’s theories with Darwin’s natural selection resulted in the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology. Today Gregor Mendel is credited with laying the foundation of the science of genetics and known as the “father of modern genetics”.

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