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Gregor Mendel's "Experiments in Plant Hybridization"

(Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden)

(Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden)

Gregor Johann Mendel, Abbot of the Augustinian Monastery, Brünn, Austria, (now Brno, the Czech Republic), discovered the celebrated laws of heredity which now bear his name — the law of segregation and the law of independent assortment that prove the existence of paired elementary units of heredity (factors) — and establish the statistical laws governing them.

His research involved careful planning, with the use of thousands of experimental plants, and, by his own account, extended over 8 years. Prior to Mendel, heredity was regarded as a "blending" process and the offspring were essentially a "dilution" of the different parental characteristics. Mendel demonstrated that the appearance of different characters in heredity followed specific laws which could be determined by counting types of offspring produced from sets of crosses.

He became the first to understand the importance of statistical investigation and to apply a knowledge of mathematics to a biological problem. His paper announcing these discoveries, "Experiments in Plant Hybridization," was read at the meetings of the Natural History Society of Brunn in Bohemia (Czech Republic) at the sessions of February 8 and March 8, 1865. It was printed in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society in 1866. Mendel ordered forty reprints of his paper which he sent to various scholars throughout Europe at the end of 1866, and sent to 133 other associations of natural scientists, prestigious libraries worldwide, and to scholars outside of Brünn. His work, however, was largely ignored. In the spring of 1900, three botanists, Hugo de Vries (Holland), Karl Correns (Germany) and E. von Tschermak (Austria) reported independent verifications of Mendel's work which amounted to a rediscovery of his first principle.

The paper passed entirely unnoticed in scientific circles although, according to many science scholars, it is one of the three most significant and famous papers in the history of biology. The other two are the Darwin-Wallace paper on evolution by means of natural selection, delivered to the Linnaean Society (1858), and the Crick-Watson letter to Nature on a suggested structure of DNA (1953). Unlike these papers, both of which achieved notice almost immediately, Mendel's contributions were viewed with such skepticism by the scientific and philosophical circles of the time that his work became largely forgotten, only to be "rediscovered" some 34 years later.

In the United States, fourteen libraries currently have original copies of the 1866 Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brunn in which Mendel's "Experiments in Plant Hybridization" is published. As befits its Augustinian heritage, Villanova University is now the fifteenth institution to have a copy of the Proceedings, thanks to the generosity of the Augustinians of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova.