Gregor Johann Mendel's story

Aged 28 G. J. Mendel failed exams in Biology and Physics at University of Vienna to become a certified teacher. Even worse, in 1853 he failed exams to be a professor due to severe illness. Those failures might have been the moments when Gregor Mendel understood that he would never make a great teacher but a mere substitute teacher paid a half salary and the dissatisfaction drove him to focus on something else.
Gregor Johann Mendel's story

H. J. Mendel was (and still is) one of the greatest Czech scientist. He started preparing his research in 1854. He defined his thesis, made first experiments and collected seeds of up to 40 varieties of pea plants, checking constancy of their traits. Experiments began in 1856 and took nine years of persistent work. Mendel then published three generalizations based on the experiments which later became famous as Mendel's Laws of Inheritance.

Mendel presented conclusions from his experiments in his paper at the meeting of the Natural History Society in 1865 and published the study as Experiments on Plant Hybridization (VersucheüberPflanzen-Hybriden) in 1866 which did not get much attention.

Gregor Johann Mendel died on Jan. 6, 1884 without being recognized for his painstaking work. Great significance of his findings and recognition of his discoveries became appreciated only in the 20th century when a group of scientists re-discovered what Mendel precisely defined and described in the late 1800s.

These findings have been applied in plant and animal breeding as well as medicine and other fields. Modern genetics is the basis of current experiments in cell reproduction and cloning, and is a truly prestigious and celebrated science.

WHAT MADE MENDEL’S FINDINGS REVOLUTIONARY?

Before Mendel’s discoveries inbred features were considered a blend similar to the blending of black and white producing a shade of grey. Mendel proved that inbred features are distributed in organized factors (Mendel’s words for genetic information). The factors described the combinations and explained the scheme which became the foundation of genetics, and helped define the principles now globally referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.

Facts, Trivia & Consequences

  • Gregor Mendel’s father spent eight years in the Napoleonic Wars as a soldier.
  • His mother tongue was German, however, he spoke fluent Czech and considered himself a “German-speaking Moravian”. He learnt Latin, Greek, Chaldean, Syrian, and Arabic. (We know he did not speak English.)
  • The pea variety which Mendel used most often for his experiments is Knight (garden) pea, and he examined about 28,000 pea plants.
  • Mendel’s revolutionary findings explaining elementary principles of heredity were summarised in a 44 page compendium which was found in Darwin’s hereditament (never opened).
  • In eight years’ time Mendel did what others did not achieve in whole lifetime. Basically, his little garden in Brno gave the same fruit that Darwin had to collect all over the Galapagos.
  • Mendel often used a microscope when analysing experiments, searching for explanation in cells.
  • Mendel was the first to connect botany and mathematics. Botanists before had been professors wandering in meadows, collecting plants for their herbals. Mendel studied combinatorics to explain some principles in botany with math figures.
  • Since 1862 Mendel took daily meteorological measures for the Institute for Meteorology in Vienna. He wanted to improve weather forecasts for farmers to make their jobs easier. Nine of 13 Mendel’s studies deal with meteorology.
  • Beekeeping was another important part of Mendel’s life and work. In 1871 he installed beehives in the garden of the monastery and step by step grew up to 50 bee colonies. He also tried to breed stingless bees to make beekeeping more comfortable.
  • Mendel was far more than a scientist. He was a Christian and considered his work a Christian quest: his discoveries served his fellow men. He was not the scientist for the sake of science; his findings were to improve the quality of human life.
  • The obituary by Gesellschaft zur Beförderung des Ackerbaues, der Natur- und Landeskunde 1884, #1 reads, “His plant experiments were truly epochal.”
  • Many scientific theories sooner or later show some error, many are proven wrong. Mendelian Laws of Inheritance however still prove absolutely and consistently correct.

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