Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

IX
MENDEL THE DISCOVERY OF HEREDITY

LYING JUST OUTSIDE the white walls of the stately Augustinian monastery of Altbriinn in Austria is a little strip of garden, no more than twenty feet wide and one hundred and twenty feet long. A path and a hedge set it apart from the fields beyond. During the 1850's and '60's, it was filled each spring with masses of flowers and with hundreds of pea plants, some of them clinging to staves, some fastened to the branches of trees, some growing along stretched strings.

Moving about among the flowering plants was a young, vigorous, decidedly stout monk. With fine forceps and a skillful hand he opened the white and violet blossoms of the peas, removed the keel and carefully detached the anthers. Taking a camel's-hair brush he then dusted the stigma with pollen from another pea plant. That done, he wrapped the treated blossom in a little bag of paper or calico, to prevent any bee or pea-weevil from carrying in other pollen.

The monk was Gregor Johann Mendel, and the work he was so lovingly and indefatigably doing was eventually to show the world how all characteristics are passed along from parent to offspring. In that quiet, sheltered garden Mendel discovered the laws of heredity.

But Mendel was a man ahead of his time. For many years the laws he worked out with an amazing precision and perception were to lie buried in the Proceedings of the Brünn Society for the Study of Natural Science. Not until 1900 were they discovered.

-150-

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