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Villanova University Commemorates 150th Anniversary of Mendel’s Experiments in Plant Hybridization with Inaugural Mendel Symposium


Inaugural Mendel Symposium, Dec. 7, will bring together some of the world’s leading minds to discuss the lasting impact of Mendel’s work across many disciplines

As an Augustinian Catholic University, Villanova plays a key role in sustaining the legacy of Gregor Mendel,an Augustinian friar and scientist, known commonly today as the “Father of Modern Genetics”

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Gregor Mendel’s “Experiments in Plant Hybridization” and celebrate its connections to Mendel and to the field of genetics by hosting the inaugural Mendel Symposium. This Dec. 7 event will bring together some of the world’s leading minds to discuss the lasting impact of Mendel’s work across many disciplines, from law and medicine to sustainability and ethics. The Mendel Symposium will take place in the Villanova Room of the Connelly Center, located on the main campus of Villanova University.

Today, Mendel is known commonly as the “Father of Modern Genetics.” In 1865, Mendel – an Augustinian friar – presented a paper that resulted from years of experiments on pea plants in the garden of St. Thomas Monastery in the Czech Republic. While the paper, “Experiments in Plant Hybridization,” initially made only a modest impact in the scientific community, it soon came to be known as a groundbreaking work and continues to provide a basis for research into genetics and heredity.

“Villanova University is privileged to celebrate Gregor Mendel’s legacy and the milieu in which he worked with this inaugural Mendel Symposium,” said the Rev. Kail C. Ellis, OSA, PhD, Special Assistant to the President and Chair of Villanova’s Mendel Medal Selection Committee. “Mendel’s discovery remains a vital part of contemporary study of the natural and physical sciences and is celebrated daily by Villanova in the University’s Mendel Science Center by faculty and students who teach, learn and engage in research.”

Added Father Ellis, “This Symposium celebrates that legacy by addressing the applications of his discovery to medicine in DNA sequences and genetic mapping that helps us understand diseases, while exploring the social uses and abuses of Mendelism and the impact of genomic research on ethical, legal and privacy issues.” 

Founded by the Augustinian Order, Villanova University plays a key role in sustaining Mendel’s legacy. The University’s science center is named for Mendel, and, since 1929, prominent scientists, including several Nobel Prize recipients, have been honored with the Mendel Medal, given by Villanova in recognition of outstanding scientific achievement accompanied by religious conviction.

Building upon the legacy of Mendel, numerous Villanova faculty are involved in cutting edge genetics research. Dennis Wykoff, PhD, associate professor and the Dennis M. Cook Endowed Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics, is working to further the understanding of how Candida glabrata – responsible for ~10% of human fungal infections – makes thiamine. Uncovering how this fungal species makes and utilizes thiamine could provide avenues for drug discovery. Todd Jackman, PhD, professor of Biology, conducts research focused on using DNA sequences from unique genes to reconstruct the relationships of geckos worldwide and at smaller scales. In 2015, his research team used new gene sequences to discover relationships between species of limbless geckos in Australia. For more on Villanova faculty research in genetics, click here.

The inaugural Mendel Symposium will further the conversation around Mendel as an innovator whose work remains relevant and enlightening in today’s world. The Symposium will bring to Villanova leading minds from some of the world’s most prominent universities, including Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Wake Forest, University of Wisconsin, University of Leeds in England and Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. Together, this collection of experts will discuss the enduring impact of Mendel’s work. See the schedule below for a full list of Symposium speakers and topics. Click here for more information on the Mendel Symposium.


Welcome (9:15 a.m.)

Session I: Mendel and his Context (9:30-11:30 a.m.)

  • “Mendel’s Milieu” – Simon Mawer (Author of Mendel’s Dwarf and Gregor Mendel: Planting the Seeds of Genetics).
    •  A best-selling author of 10 novels and two nonfiction books who has frequently delved into genetics and the work of Mendel in his writing. Mawer, who holds a biology degree from Oxford University, also wrote Gregor Mendel, Planting the Seeds of Genetics, a nonfiction work published in 2006.
  • “Preserving the Legacy of Mendel” – Ondřej Dostál, PhD (Director, Mendel Museum; Professor, Masaryk University, Brno)
    • Through his work as a museum curator, Dr. Dostál has shared the story of Gregor Mendel’s life and work around the world. The Director of the Mendel Museum since 2007, Dr. Dostal is the author of the museum’s permanent exhibition, G.J. Mendel—Man, Abbott and Scientist.
  • “What Happens in Mendel’s Paper” – Gregory Radick, PhD, MPhil (Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds; Director, Leeds Humanities Research Institute)
    • A historian and philosopher of science, with an emphasis on biology and the human sciences. Based at the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds, Dr. Radick has focused much of his research on genetics.
  • Q&A Session

Session II: Modern Genetics (12:30-2:30 p.m.)

  • “Personal Genetics” – Robert C. Green, MD, MPH (Associate Physician and Geneticist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Director, Genomes2People Research Program)
    • A renowned expert in translational genomics and health outcomes. The author of more than 300 published articles, Dr. Green has received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) continuously for 21 years.
  • “Personalized Cancer Therapy” – Patricia LoRusso, DO (Professor of Medicine and Associate Director of Innovative Medicine, Yale Cancer Center)
    • A leader in the development of new cancer drugs through clinical trials, Dr. LoRusso was director of the Phase I Clinical Trials Program and the Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics at Barbara Karmanos Cancer Institute before joining Yale Cancer Center in August 2015.
  • Q&A Session

Session III: Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (2:45-4:45 p.m.)

  • “Good Genes, Bad Genes: Social Uses and Abuses of Mendelism” – Nathaniel Comfort, PhD (Professor, Department of the History of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University)
    • A researcher, historian, writer and teacher whose work has been focused on genetics for 25 years. A professor in the Department of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Comfort is also the Baruch Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress and NASA.
  • “Genetics and Law/Privacy and Genome” – Pilar Nicole Ossorio, PhD, JD (Professor of Law and Bioethics, University of Wisconsin; Director, Ethics Scholar in Residence, Morgridge Institute for Research)
    • A law professor and researcher whose interests include ethical and social issues in scientific research. Co-director of the Law and Neuroscience Program, leader of the ethics core for the Center for Predictive Computational Phenotyping, and co-director of the Research Ethics Consultation Service.
  • Q&A Session

Modern Genetics Roundtable: (4:45-6 p.m.)

  • Featuring all of the Symposium speakers, as well as Sarah Vaughan Brakman, James McCartney and Stephen Napier (Department of Philosophy, Villanova University) and Ana Iltis, Director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, Wake Forest University

Media Contact

Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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