chapter  3
66 Pages

Gene, Genome, and Crop Improvement 86


Modern genetics, the branch of biology that deals with heredity, began with Gregor Mendel (1822-84), the Augustian monk from Brünn, Austria. His pioneering work of several years studying genetic traits in garden pea (Pisum sativum) plants was fi rst presented under the German title “Versushe über Pfl anzen-Hybriden” (Experiments on Plant Hybridization) to the Natural History Society of Brünn in two lectures on 8 February and 8 March, 1865 [Mendel 1866]. This work, based on his testing of 29,000 pea plants between 1856 and 1863 (published in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn in 1866) ultimately led to the science of genetics in later years. When he cross-bred pea plants over many generations, many of them showed different traits (tall and short plants; round and wrinkly peas; purple and white fl owers; terminal-positioned and axil-positioned fl owers; yellow and green seeds) which are heritable. However, his work was largely ignored by biologists of the time, and even Mendel himself seemed apprehensive of the utility of his fi ndings.