Science for All newsletter

Science for All | Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) – The father of genetics

This article forms a part of the Science for All newsletter that takes the jargon out of science and puts the fun in! Subscribe now!

Science for All | Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) – The father of genetics.

Science for All | Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) – The father of genetics. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A very important insight that underlies the science of genetics, namely that traits can be inherited by offspring from the parents, was first experimentally established by Gregor Mendel, a monk in the order of St Augustine. He may have been born on July 20, 1822, to German-speaking parents in what is now the Czech region, but celebrated his birthday on July 22 as corroborated by his family. He was an extremely keen student, interested in science and pursued his studies despite the fact that they were impoverished. His parents and sister tried to help him fund his education by selling off a part of their farm and giving up her dowry, respectively. But this was not sufficient, and partly because he got help to pursue his studies, Mendel became a monk. His given name was Johann, and it was changed to Gregor when he took up monkhood.

Kim Nasmyth writes in a Perspective article in Nature Reviews: Genetics that despite being an introvert Mendel was a gifted teacher. But partly because of nervousness and partly because he did not want to give the expected answers, he failed in two oral exams necessary to get his certificate. It was ironic that it was not physics but natural history that let him down, because his contribution to the subject led to a revolution in the field.

In his studies, over a period of eight years, Mendel started with 22 pea (Pisum sativum) plants and cross-bred them to get over 10,000 plants. These were classified according to a set of characteristics like seed colour, shape of the pod, colour of the flower etc. He found that some traits, such as shape and colour, can be passed down from one generation to the next. He was the one who coined the terms dominant and recessive to describe these traits, which are used even today.

Mendel’s records were burnt down when he died. It was much later that his ideas were re-discovered. Today, we speak of genes as being passed down from parent to child and carrying with them the various traits. Gregor Mendel’s experiments and research lie at the foundation of these findings.

The gist:

  • A very important insight that underlies the science of genetics, namely that traits can be inherited by offspring from the parents, was first experimentally established by Gregor Mendel, a monk in the order of St Augustine
  • Mendel started with 22 pea (Pisum sativum) plants and cross-bred them to get over 10,000 plants. These were classified according to a set of characteristics. He found that some traits, such as shape and colour, can be passed down from one generation to the next. He was the one who coined the terms dominant and recessive to describe these traits, which are used even today.
  • Mendel’s records were burnt down when he died. It was much later that his ideas were re-discovered. Today, we speak of genes as being passed down from parent to child and carrying with them the various traits. Gregor Mendel’s experiments and research lie at the foundation of these findings.

From the Science Pages

COVID-19: More retractions in journals than preprints

Wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 reveals dynamics of infection

The intellectual troika that helped understand heredity

Question Corner

How does studying a Martian meteorite help understand Earth’s origins? Read the answer here.

Flora and Fauna


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 24, 2022 12:39:16 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/gregor-mendel-1822-1884-the-father-of-genetics/article65660996.ece