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Gregor Mendel

Gregor Mendel Photo

Gregor Johann Mendel was born Johann Mendel on 22nd July 1822 into a farming family in Austria. His early childhood was spent working at his family farm, then a local teacher noticed his aptitude for learning and suggested that he be sent to secondary school in Troppau for further education. This was a major financial undertaking for his family and was a difficult experience to go through for Mendel. Yet he forged ahead and finally completed school with honors in 1804.

After graduation, Mendel went on to excel in the study of physics and math at the Philosophical Institute of the University of Olmütz. Mendel was prone to severe depression and had to discontinue his studies on multiple occasions due to this mental ailment. Despite all this, he graduated successfully in 1843 and that same year went on to join St. Thomas’s Monastery in Brno to become a monk.  During those days, monasteries were considered the cultural and academic hub of societies and that is what Mendel was exposed to. He immediately immersed himself in the monastery’s extensive library and research facilities.

In 1849, he became gravely ill and was sent to recuperate in Znaim with a teaching position. However, he failed the teaching certification test the following year and was then sent to the University of Vienna in 1851 at the monastery’s expense to further study the sciences. Here he studied mathematics and physics under Christian Doppler (famed for the Doppler effect of wave frequency) and was taught botany by Franz Unger (a firm supporter of the pre-Darwinian version of evolutionary theory).

By 1853, Mendel had completed his education at the University of Vienna and returned to the monastery, where he took up a teaching position. At the monastery, Mendel started his own research for which he is most revered for in history.

Experiments and Theories

In 1854, Mendel started working on genetics. During those days, scientists believed that inherited traits of offsprings were simply the diluted amalgamation of various traits of the parents. Over time the hybrid created in this process would relapse to its original form, suggesting that a hybrid was incapable of creating new forms. However, the results of such studies could not really be considered credible, since the research was conducted over a limited number of specimens for a short span of time. Mendel, on the other hand, spent eight years researching this topic using tens of thousands of individual plants.

This extensive research led to Mendel’s Law of Segregation, establishing the fact that an offspring can inherit dominant and recessive traits from parents, and the Law of Independent Assortment, explaining how some traits were transferred independently of other traits from parent to offspring. He suggested that heredity followed statistical laws. Although his research was based on plants, Mendel believed that all living things followed the same heredity law.

In 1866, the Natural Science Society published this research in their journal, calling it the Experiments on Plant Hybrids. However, most of Mendel’s work in this field went unnoticed or misunderstood. Along with the rest of his peers, even Mendel considered his work to be inapplicable and restricted to only certain species or traits. Of course, time proved his system to be very accurate and is today the foundational principle of biology.

Later Life and Legacy

Mendel was elected the abbot of the school in 1868. Greater workload and failing eyesight prevented him from carrying on his research further. His public opposition to an 1874 taxation law that increased taxes on monasteries further isolated him from his contemporaries.

Gregor Mendel died on 6th January 1884, at the age of 61. His last resting place was the monastery’s burial plot.

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