Posthumous Fame Austrian Monk Gregor Johann Mendel
About the famous Austrian monk Gregor Johann Mendel, biography and history of the man who achieved fame after only death.
GREGOR JOHANN MENDEL (1822-1884), Austrian monk, scientist
Many of the truly epochal scientific discoveries have resulted from the work of gifted generalists or amateurs. Such was the founder of the science of genetics, who lived in the Augustinian monastery of Brno (now in Czechoslovakia) for most of his life. A quiet scholar, vulnerable to psychological breakdowns, and without a strong religious vocation, Mendel devoted himself to teaching natural science and pursuing his private but highly sophisticated research in botany and meteorology. Between 1856 and 1863 he cultivated and tested at least 28,000 pea plants in the monastery garden. He focused on single, easily observed traits, then cross-pollinated the plants with great care and noted the types and frequency of traits in their progeny. His results, presented in 1865 before the local Natural Science Society, gave the first scientific description of the mechanism of heredity, and his summarized interpretations are today known as Mendel's Laws. These laws define the basic behavior and relationships of genes (though Mendel used the word factors) in the transmission of hereditary traits. Charles Darwin never learned of Mendel's work, which would have provided the missing key he needed to account for the process of natural selection. With no ties to the international scientific community, the monk's work sank into oblivion. In 1900, however, three European botanists independently discovered the same principles--and were astonished to learn they had only repeated the findings recorded in Mendel's obscure monograph.
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