Gregor Mendel & Genetics: Experiments, Laws & Discovery
Gregor Mendel is currently known as the father of modern genetics. This lesson goes through a brief history of his life, workings as a scientist, and his findings.
Gregor Mendel is known as the 'Father of Modern Genetics.' He is a pretty big name in the science world. However, he did not receive any of this credit while he was alive. We will come back to this later.
Mendel was born in Austria in 1822. His parents were farmers. When he was young and on the farm Mendel became very interested in plants, trees, and fruit. He was very good at school and soon found himself away from the farm and into schools and religion. Over his lifetime Mendel became a teacher, priest, and scientist.
From 1856-1863 Mendel conducted his now-famous experiments while he was an Augustinian monk in the Czech Republic. Here he was able to tend to the garden at the monastery. His work was published in 1866. However, it was not until the 1900s when three scientists - Erich Tschermak, Hugo de Vries, and Carl Correns - rediscovered Mendel's work and confirmed his findings. It was then that Mendel's experiments changed the world of genetics forever.
Gregor Mendel spent those eight years studying tens of thousands of plants. He mainly studied pea plants because they had distinguished characteristics and they were quick to grow. Mendel would create hybrids from the plants. Hybrids are the blending of two things to make one. An example of a new technology hybrid is an engine that runs on both electricity and gas (two things to make one engine).
Mendel's hybrid was two pea plants. He would act as the pollinator, carefully controlling which two plants would create a new generation. While working with the tens of thousands of plants Mendel would observe the seven different traits from these plants:
- 1. Flower color (purple or white)
- 2. Flower position (axial or terminal)
- 3. Stem length (short or tall)
- 4. Seed Shapes (round or wrinkled)
- 5. Seed color (yellow or green)
- 6. Pod shape (inflated or constricted)
- 7. Pod color (yellow or green)
Mendel would cross-pollinate the different types of pea plants. Sometimes the plants would have the same characteristics and sometimes they would have different characteristics. He would then observe the next generation of plants that were created. He would then pollinate these plants and keep on going.
Before and during Mendel's experiments, heredity, the transmission of traits from parents to their offspring, was believed to just be a watered down blend or combination of traits from the parents to their offspring. However, Mendel's observations from these experiments showed that this was not always the case.
Other scientists conducted similar experiments like Gregor Mendel's pea plant experiments. However, the experiments did not last as long nor were they as extensive as Mendel's. They were not able to observe how sometimes hidden characteristics would appear after many generations of its absence.
While conducting his experiments Mendel began to see these characteristics make a comeback. They would appear in the offspring of parents who did not show any signs of these traits. This goes against the blending theory.
Mendel soon began a theory that individuals inherit (receive from their parents) one unit from each parent per trait. So, an offspring would receive one flower color unit from each of its parents. The individual trait from one parent is called an allele. The alleles together form one unit that give the offspring its characteristic or unit. Mendel began to call these units genes. To this day we continue to call the units that get passed down from parents to offspring genes.
Mendel also observed that some of the traits were more prevalent than the others. They seemed to dominate certain traits. Hence, Mendel coined the terms dominant and recessive. A dominate trait will always show up when present. A recessive trait can be hidden until it is the only one available.
Through his many observations and mathematical findings Mendel came up with two laws: the Law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment. These two laws guide modern genetics to this day.
The Law of Independent Assortment states that different pairs of alleles are passed down from the parents independently from each other. For instance a pea plant passing down the color of the flower to its offspring does not affect which allele it passes down for the position of the flower. They are both completely independent from each other.
The Law of Segregation tells us that each parent has two alleles for each trait. However, only one allele is passed to the offspring. Which allele gets passed down is completely by chance.
As a scientist, Gregor Mendel was patient and observant for a long period of time. He worked hard making many observations that disproved the blending theory of hereditary. Now scientists use not only the laws and terms from his findings but also his methods of how he conducted his experiments. Mendel was not alive to see his huge effect on the world of genetics, but his name will live on as the father of modern genetics.
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