Anthropology Gregor Mendel
by
Anne Buchanan, Kenneth Weiss
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0092

Introduction

Gregor Mendel (b. 1822–d. 1884) was an Augustinian friar from what is now the Czech Republic. He became known posthumously as the Father of Modern Genetics because of his work documenting the inheritance of selected traits in garden peas. Mendel spent eight years experimenting with crosses of pea plants that differed by single traits such as height, texture, and color of the pea or color of the blossom. He concluded, after cataloguing nearly thirty thousand peas, that traits do not blend; that traits in the first generation offspring of crosses between plants will all be the same because some traits are dominant and some are recessive (terms that he introduced), and the recessive trait will not be expressed in the first generation; and that traits will segregate in subsequent generations by expected ratios. He further concluded that there must be elements responsible for all traits; that every individual has two distinct elements for each trait, one inherited from each parent, and the two elements for a given trait segregate in the sense that only one is transmitted to each offspring; and that the elements for different traits are transmitted independently to each offspring. Mendel’s work was published in 1866 but did not become widely known until 1900, when it was finally recognized as a seminal contribution to the understanding of inheritance. Scholars have long debated a number of aspects of his work, including what motivated him, what he thought he had discovered, whether it is correct to attribute what we now know as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance in fact to Mendel, what he knew and believed about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, whether his results might be too good to be true, and thus whether he might have altered his data to make his point. It has been suggested over the years that Charles Darwin had a copy of Mendel’s paper in his library that he never read, but most Darwin scholars disregard this story as folklore and believe that it is likely that Darwin never knew of Mendel’s work. As for Mendel’s lasting legacy, modern genetics has recognized that his view of inheritance was revolutionary for its time but in light of current knowledge, we now know that it has fundamental limitations.

Bibliographies

There are a number of online resources for works on Mendel, which vary in completeness and the extent to which they are maintained and up-to-date. The most thorough of these is MendelWeb, which includes an extensive bibliography of books and journal articles, and selected chapters from numerous biographies as well as Mendel’s papers in English and German and in a variety of formats. This site was created as a teaching resource, and, while extensive, it remains a work in progress. Vítĕzslav Orel, renowned Mendel scholar, started and long edited a collection of papers on Mendel and his work, Folia Mendeliana (Jakubíček 1966). The periodical is published by the Moravian Museum.

  • Jakubíček, Milan. Folia Mendeliana. 1966–.

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    A collection of articles about Mendel and his work, begun by a renowned Mendel scholar, and published over a number of years.

  • MendelWeb.

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    This site contains the most extensive bibliography on the web of books and articles about Mendel and his work as well as original papers.

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