Johann Gregor Mendel was a teacher, monk, and scientist. He was born in 1822 in Heinzendorf Odrau, now Hyncice in the Czech Republic.
After finishing university, he joined the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno. When he entered, the monastery was a hub of culture and intellect, and he was exposed to many new teachings and ideas that he loved.
What did he discover?
Through his work with pea plants, Gregor Mendel discovered many of the important rules about inheritance. Because of his work, he is commonly referred to now as the ‘Father of Genetics.
Here are some of his main discoveries:
- He deduced that genes came in pairs
- He worked out that genes were inherited at units, so one came from each parent
- He introduced the idea of ‘dominant’ and ‘recessive’ genes
- He recognized mathematical patterns that occurred in inheritance
- He also introduced ‘Mendel’s Laws of Heredity.’
When his results were published in 1865, his findings were not believed by many people, and his work was never appreciated as people didn’t understand it, and it also went against a lot of the popular ideas at the time.
By the early 1900s, people started to understand his results and findings more. It was after his Laws of Heredity were discovered again, and the work and knowledge of scientists had come a long way since his death.
Finally, Mendel’s work is being acknowledged, and he is now arguably the most influential scientist in genetics.
Mendel’s Laws of Heredity
Mendel introduced some important laws surrounding inheritance. These were:
- The Law of Segregation: Each inherited trait has its gene pair. These pairs are taken from both parents, and offspring get one gene from each parent.
- The Law of Independent Assortment: Genes inherited for each trait are all separate – so the inheritance of one trait does not affect any others.
- The Law of Dominance: The trait or characteristic that the offspring will express will come from the dominant gene in the pair.
Mendel’s pea plants:
To find out these discoveries, Mendel needed to conduct lots of experiments. But, first, he wanted to use pea plants and their distinctive characteristics to look at the patterns of inheritance.
He chose pea plants as they had many distinctive features and traits that were easy for him to study. He looked at the seed shape, seed color, plant height, pod shape, pod color, flower position, and flower color.
To conduct the experiments, he would grow two groups with opposite traits – for example, short and tall plants. Then, he would keep breeding and raising these groups separately until he had two groups of pure-bred plants that only produced offspring identical to themselves. He then bred these groups together and observed the characteristics that their offspring inherited.
He worked out that the patterns of traits that the offspring was inheriting were very clear. From these patterns, he discovered everything we know from his Laws of Heredity, such as the idea of ‘dominant’ and ‘recessive’ traits.
These experiments took him almost eight years, from 1856 to 1863. Over these years, he grew over 30,000 pea plants and noted their type and characteristics to track all their traits and inheritance patterns.
Why do we learn about Mendel today?
Just from looking at your own family, it is obvious that certain traits and characteristics are passed down through generations. This could be hair or eye color, similar physical features, or even certain health problems.
Most people will be able to identify these traits, and children will be able to identify examples in their own families.
These traits come from inherited genetics – genes passed down from parents that present themselves in their offspring. Our knowledge of this now all started from the work of Mendel and his experiments with pea plants.
Children will enjoy learning about the science behind their families, and this Biology topic is popular since it can be studied and understood first-hand!
For lesson inspiration, look at our collection of resources and teaching materials on Genetics and Evolution.
Fun facts about Gregor Mendel:
- When he died, much of his work was burned by monks – thankfully, not all of it!
- The house he grew up in is now a museum dedicated to his work.
- The famous Czech composer, Leoš Janáček, played at Mendel’s funeral.