Gregor Mendel, born as Johann Mendel, was an Austrian scientist and monk hailed as the “Father of modern genetics” for his pioneering research in the field of heredity. He was a monk in Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno where he worked as a teacher. He had a deep interest in botany which led him to conduct experiments on pea plants. Inspired by the work of a biologist named Franz Unger, he began his experiments in the monastery’s sprawling gardens. Over the course of his study he observed that there were seven characteristics in the pea plants, and two forms of each characteristic. These characteristics included seed shape and pod shape in addition to plant height and seed colour. Mendel observed that the seven characteristics he had recognized remained consistent over generations in purebred plants. For eight years, he carefully crossbred and grew thousands of pea plants, and patiently analyzed and compared the plants and seeds for difference in colour and size of the seeds, and variations in length of the plants. He took various precautions to prevent the accidental pollination of the flowers which could have altered the results of the experiments. His meticulous study and the resultant observations led to what is today known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance.
CHILDHOOD & EARLY LIFE
>> Gregor Mendel was born as the middle child and only son of Anton and Rosine Mendel. He had two sisters and the family lived and worked on the farm they had owned for generations.
>> As a child he worked in the garden and studied beekeeping which cultivated in him a deep love for biological sciences.
>> He received his early schooling in his own small village but had to be sent to a nearby town for his secondary education. The decision to send away their only son was not an easy one for his parents, but they did it for sake of his future.
>> Later on he went to the University of Olomouc where he studied philosophy and physics from 1840 to 1843.
>> In 1843, he began his training as a priest and joined the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno as a monk. He took the name ‘Gregor’ on entering the religious field.
>> The monastery sent him to the University of Vienna to study under Abbot C.F.Napp. There he studied physics and mathematics under Christian Doppler and botany from Franz Unger.
>> He rejoined the monastery as a teacher in 1853 where he was motivated by his colleagues to conduct a study on plants.
>> He began to conduct his practical study on plants in 1856.He studied edible pea plants and recognized seven distinct characteristics that remained consistent over generations in purebred varieties. These characteristics included: height of the plant, shape of the pod, shape of the seed, size and colour of the seeds, etc.
>> He cross-pollinated the plants with contrasting characteristics in order to study the effects on the offspring. He also took due precaution to prevent accidental pollination by insects. He cultivated thousands of pea plants over the course of his experiments.
>> He collected the seeds of the offspring and analyzed them for variations in colour, shape, and size. He also compared the plants for differences in height.
>> Over a period of eight years he painstakingly examined the plants, pods and seeds and made observations that would form the basis for a deeper study of genetics.
>> He presented the results of his experiments at the Natural History Society of Brno in 1865. His findings were published in a paper ‘Experiments on Plant Hybridization’ in 1866. But his research failed to create an impact at that time.
>> In 1868, he was made abbot of the monastery where he had been teaching for the past many years. The increased responsibilities prevented him from conducting any further scientific experiments.
>> Gregor Mendel’s works failed to gain much importance during his lifetime, but formed the foundation for what is today known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance.
>> Mendel through his extensive experimentation and analysis founded the three laws or principles of inheritance: The law of segregation, the law of dominance, and the law of independent assortment.
>> He developed the concepts of dominant and recessive genes that explain how genetic traits are passed along from generation to generation.
>> His 1865 paper ‘Experiments on Plant Hybridization’ which was largely ignored during his lifetime is today regarded as the base of genetic experimentation.
PERSONAL LIFE & LEGACY
>> As a young man he had very close and loving relations with his parents. Being a monk, he never married and led a life of celibacy.
>> He died at the age of 61 after suffering from kidney problems.
>> His work on heredity which did not find much acceptance during his lifetime took on much greater significance after his death and he was posthumously hailed as the father of modern genetics.
>> He founded the ‘Austrian Meteorological Society’ in 1865.
>> He had also tried conducting experiments on honeybees but was not much successful.
>> All the papers in his possession were burned after his death.