Gregor Mendel's 188th!

Alice McCarthy, July 20th, 2010 | Filed under
  • Image courtesy of Wellcome Library, London

Since I work at a world-class institution where I encounter genetics and genomics research daily, it is only right to acknowledge the birthday of Gregor Johann Mendel (1852-1884), the Austrian friar whose puttering in the garden led to more than just the day’s edibles.

For those unfamiliar with the famous friar, Mendel studies of inheritance in a variety of peas set us down the path of genetics research. In the garden of the Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno, Czech Republic, Mendel opened the door to examine heritability before he – or anyone else – even conceived of the idea of chromosomes and genes.

Mendel reasoned offspring peas received ‘factors’ (we call them genes) from each parent plant. The patterns of his offspring peas proved the now-classic matrix of recessive, hybrid, and dominant genetics underlying basic heritability. His Laws of Segregation and Independent Assortment became famous for explaining these concepts.

Future scientists added to Mendel’s findings that date back to 1865 but were only rediscovered in the early 1900s. His work really got a boost thanks to the coincidental rediscovery of the work of another genetics master – Charles Darwin (whose birthday I acknowledged last month in my blog).

So, we acknowledge these greats who did not have the advantage of DNA (never mind the luxury of genomics-based research instrumentation we enjoy here) for literally laying the groundwork of modern genetics, something researchers around the world are pursuing in spades (sorry, couldn’t help myself)…including at the Broad.