Interesting facts about genetics and Gregor Mendel

September 10, 2010 | In: Science facts

Have you ever noticed that people will sometimes say of a child, “Oh, she certainly has her father’s eyes,” or “He sure has his mother’s nose.”

On first thought this is strange, for it seems reasonable to assume that a long-nosed father and a short-nosed mother would have a medium-nosed son or daughter.

The person who figured out why it doesn’t always work this way was an obscure Augustinian monk and amateur scientist named Gregor Mendel.

Born Johann Mendel, the son of a farmer, he joined the monastery in 1843 and took the name Gregor. He took a test for a teaching permit, but failed, and interestingly, the founder of the science of genetics scored his lowest marks in biology and geology!

Nevertheless, his abbot sent him to the University of Vienna where he studied mathematics and science.

Returning to the monastery, he began experimenting with pea plants. Among other experiments, he planted dwarf peas and tall peas. When carefully bred among themselves, he found that seeds from the dwarfs always produced a new generation of dwarfs, but not so the tall peas. Sometimes their offspring were dwarfs.

After experimenting with more than 21,000 plants, he concluded that there were two genes governing each of the plant’s characteristics, but that one of those genes is dominant and if it is present it determines the trait the plant will exhibit. For example, two tall pea plants could each have a tallness gene and a shortness gene. If they both contribute their shortness gene to a seed, the offspring plant will be short. But if one or both contribute a tallness gene, the plant will be tall.

Mendel published results of his studies in an article called “Experiments with Plant Hybrids” in the journal of the Brno Natural History Society, after which it was promptly forgotten for 33 years until it was rediscovered independently by German, Austrian and Netherlands botanists.

As for Mendel, he was a good monk, so he was promoted to abbot, where he was so busy with his administrative duties that he had little time for experimentation.

Eager to extend his research to animals, he did manage to find time to breed bees that were excellent honey producers. The only problem was that they were so vicious they had to be destroyed.

And if you’re wondering why children sometimes DO show a mixture of their parents’ features, it is because features are often determined by more than one set of genes.

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