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Gregor Mendel

Mendel's Scientific Legacy

While neither Mendel nor anyone else in his day knew anything about chromosomes or genes, the laws of inheritance he discovered predicted exactly how genes behave on chromosomes during the reproductive process. Indeed, the factors he discovered are genes, which come in pairs and segregate on separate chromosomes during sperm and egg production, just as he suggested. Gene pairs located on different sets of chromosomes will assort independently during the process. While most genes do not exhibit simple dominance-recessiveness relations, and most traits are governed by more than one gene, it is to Mendel's credit that he began by trying to understand simple systems in order to develop generalizable laws.

Mendel published the results of his experiments, "Versuche über Pflanzenhybriden" ("Attempts at Plant Hybridization") in 1866. He did little scientific work after he became abbot of the monastery two years later. His work was ignored by the larger scientific community, in part because it was not published in a widely read journal, and in part because it tackled a problem, the physical basis of heredity, that few other scientists were thinking deeply about at that time.

That changed shortly afterward, when microscopic studies of cells revealed that chromosomes divided when cells divided, provoking speculation that they might be involved in inheritance. Mendel's studies were redis-covered in 1900, sixteen years after his death, by three biologists studying similar phenomena. The importance of his theory of inheritance was immediately recognized and widely accepted, and became the starting point for further investigations of the nature of inheritance that were carried out by Thomas Hunt Morgan, Alfred Sturtevant, and other twentieth-century geneticists. Mendelism, as the theory was called, was merged with Darwinism in the 1930s to form the "New Synthesis," which explained evolutionary theory in modern genetic terms.

Richard Robinson


Henig, Robin Marantz. The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

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Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 3Gregor Mendel - Education And Training, Experiments On Peas, Laws Of Inheritance, Mendel's Scientific Legacy