Biography of Gregor Johann Mendel

Alison Bowler's image for:
"Biography of Gregor Johann Mendel"
Image by: 

The man often called the father of modern genetic theory was born Johann Mendel into the poor farming family of Anton and Rosine Mendel in Heizendorf, Austria on July 22, 1822. This former part of Austria is now in the Czech Republic and the village is known as Hyncice. He was the middle of three children having both an older and a younger sister. As a boy, he worked as a gardener and also a beekeeper before going to study at the Philosophical Institute at Olomouc from 1840 to 1843. In 1843, on the advice of his physics teacher, he entered the monastery at Brünn in Moravia; this is now known as Brno and is also now in the Czech Republic. The Augustinian order of St Thomas ran this monastery. This was a teaching order with a reputation for scientific enquiry. It was at this monastery he was given the name of Gregor, becoming known as Gregor Johann Mendel.

In 1851, the monastery sent him to the University of Vienna to gain a teaching qualification in Physics. He was a poor student and one of his examiners failed his with the comment “he lacks insight and the requisite clarity of knowledge”. He returned to the monastery in 1853, where he taught Physics for a while before turning to his interest in gardening.

Between 1856 and 1863, he conducted experiments on over 28,000 pea plants individually fertilizing each plant and then wrapping them to ensure no cross-fertilization took place. He measured different characteristics of the plants and plotted them trough a number of generations. From these observations, he deduced the nature of inheritance of recessive and dominant genes

He read his paper “Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn. At the time, it went against the accepted theory of genetics, which was Darwin’s pangene theory and during the rest of his life, other scientists cited his paper only three times.

Mendel then turned his attention to honeybees. A hybrid strain f bees that he bred proved to be so vicious that they had to be destroyed. He was unable to gain an insight into the genetics of the bees largely owing to the inability to control the fertilization of the queens. He also described a number of novel plant species.

In 1868, he was made abbot of the monastery. As abbot, his administrative duties prevented him from continuing with any long-term scientific research. He had a dispute with the government over the proposed introduction of new taxes on religious institutions.

Gregor Johann Mendel died of chronic nephritis on Leos Janacek played the organ. The new abbot, taking his place at the monastery, burned Mendel’s scientific papers.

It was only in the twentieth century that Mendel’s work received its recognition. Two of the terms he used in his paper – “dominant” and “recessive” are still in use in modern genetics and the Mendelian theory is an accepted part of genetic studies. The Czech Republic has honored this scientist naming their research station in Antarctica, ”The Mendel Polar Station”.

More about this author: Alison Bowler

From Around the Web