Rare Book Profile: Gregor Mendel’s Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden (Experiments in Plant Hybridization)

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Sometimes unimpressive-looking books can have world-changing impact.  Gregor Mendel’s Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden (Brno: Verlag des Vereines, 1866) is a perfect example of this. When it was first published, it was largely ignored, but in it he presented the Mendelian ratios which laid the foundation for modern genetics, earning for him the unofficial title “Father of genetics.”

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) was a botanist and Augustinian monk.  He was born Johann Mendel, the only son of a farming family in Austria. At age 11, he was sent to school in Troppau. He then enrolled in the Philosophical Institute at the University of Olmütz, where he excelled in physics and mathematics graduating in 1843. That year, against his family’s wishes, Mendel entered the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno, and took the name Gregor. In 1851, Mendel was sent to the University of Vienna to study science and obtain teaching certification. In 1853, he returned to the monastery to teach secondary school and conduct research. In addition to plants, he studied bees, astronomy, and meteorology. Most of his published research was in meteorology, and he founded the Austrian Meteorological Society in 1865. He was elected abbot in 1868, and gave up research to accommodate his new responsibilities. He died in 1884 and was buried in the monastery.

When Mendel began his experiments, it was generally accepted that traits of offspring were a blend of all traits of its parents, and that hybrids invariably reverted to the parents’ original forms—no stable new varieties could be generated.  Mendel chose to work with peas because there were many varieties with distinctive traits, controlled pollination was easy, and new generations could be produced quickly. His experiments, which involved nearly 30,000 plants over almost ten years, led Mendel to three major conclusions: the Law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment, and that heredity follows basic statistical patterns. He asserted that these principles apply to all organisms.

 Mendel presented his findings in two lectures before the Natural Science Society in Brno in 1865, which published them in Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Verines in Brünn (Transactions of the Natural Science Society in Brno) in 1866. When the paper was published, Mendel asked for forty reprints and sent many of them to prominent scientists, but his work was largely ignored until 1900, when three botanists arrived at the same conclusions, only to discover that Mendel had published first. Initially controversial, Mendel’s work became increasingly accepted and influential.

The Health Sciences Library’s copy of Mendel’s paper was extracted from the journal. It is a small, thin volume, printed in a Roman typeface with no illustrations, narrow margins, and a gray library buckram binding.

Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, emily.epstein@ucdenver.edu or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]

One thought on “Rare Book Profile: Gregor Mendel’s Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden (Experiments in Plant Hybridization)

  1. Thank you for sharing once more this fascinating breakthrough in genetics and a man who showed in his life and his work that there is harmony between science and a religious life when both of them are understood and taken seriously.

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