Mendel-Brno 2000

category image Volume: 17
Issue Number 6, Part 2
June 2000

The Drive for Knowledge and Creativity in G. Mendel?s Research

On the occasion of the Centennial of the rediscovery of Mendel's research attention can be brought to the remarkable assimilation of Mendel's theory after 1900.

Attending the celebration of the centennial of Mendel?s birth in Brno in 1922, Professor E. Baur spoke about the prejudices before biologists began to understand the far-reaching implications of Mendel?s experiments. In the last ten years, rich in scientific work, Mendel?s discovery has been acknowledged "as pioneering not only for theoretical research but also for practical selection of plants and animals, for medicine, population policy and for racial research." (1). After the reconstruction of Mendel?s Pisum experiments Fisher in 1936 wrote about the "tale" of Mendel?s discovery of the laws of heredity and concluded that geneticists want to know first: "What did Mendel discover? How did he discover it? What did he think he had discovered? (2) His critical voice remained long without response.

In Moscow in August 1948 T.D. Lysenko (1898-1974), with the overt support of Stalin, declared in Moscow genetics to be a bourgeois false science, referred to as reactionary Mendelism-Weismanism- Morganism. In February 1948 the Communist Party took power in Czechoslovakia under threat of force, and soon even in Mendel?s homeland genetics was replaced by "class Mitchurin biology", subordinated to politic ideology. In 1950 the Augustinian monastery with the Mendel museum in Brno were stormed by police and closed. In the same year geneticists evaluated the progress of genetics during its first 50 years in the USA. C.D. Darlington recalled that Mendel not merely discovered segregation and recombination but also the elements which segregate, recombine and, above all, determine heredity (3). The Centennial of the publication of Mendel?s discovery was commemorated in Brno in 1965. J. Krizenecky (1896-1964), elucidating the era of the rediscovery of Mendel?s work drew attention to Mendel?s discovery of the material determinants of heredity (4). In 1979, historian of science, R.C. Olby, wrote that Mendel was investigating only the empirical laws of hybridization and criticized Darlington and Krizenecky for glorifying Mendel as discoverer of the unit of heredity (5). This view was later repeated by some other historians of science.

Newly found documents relating to Mendel?s achievements led me to explain how Mendel investigated the essence of heredity and disclosed its material determinants. The controversies in the interpretation of his discovery are summarised in the papers by Hartl and Orel (6) and in the book Gregor Mendel the first Geneticist (6). The publication of empirical genetic laws before Mendel was born and the formulation of the research question what and how is inherited before Mendel came to Brno is elucidated by Orel and Wood (8).

In 1992, Walter Mann, great-grandnephew of Mendel, publishing a facsimile of Mendel?s Pisum paper, raised the questions: (9) "What sensations might have moved him (Mendel), what hopes carried him, was it pleasure, satisfaction, gratitude, pride? Was he niggled by final doubts? Would his work be acknowledged by the public or rejected?" Two years later Mann, Professor of architecture at the Technical University in Darmstadt, in his lecture Creativity and technology, examined the drive for knowledge and creativity as a substantial part of Man?s nature. In natural sciences, according to him, creativity enabled man to convert his drive for knowledge into discoveries. "What a creative force men such as Galilei, Euler and Newton had, to mention only a few of the greats in our field, which allowed them to penetrate into the secret of nature and to formulate their discoveries (10).

In his modesty Mann did not dare to include among the great discoverers his great-granduncle Mendel. In this context Fisher?s third question can now be elucidated. Mendel?s gift for learning was recognised by the parish priest J. Schreiber, who recommended his further education. In the Augustinian monastery Mendel found "a special liking for natural sciences which deepened the more he had the opportunity to became familiar with it" (11). In 1851, Abbot C.F. Napp (1792-1867), acknowledging his "exceptional intellectual capacity and remarkable industry in the study of natural sciences" sent Mendel to Vienna University (12). The teachers evoked in the-30-year-old student the drive towards scientific knowledge. On his return to Brno excited creativity led Mendel to elaborate hypotheses to be proved in experiments, aware that "It i requires a good a deal of courage indeed to undertake such a far-reaching task; however, this seems to be one correct way of finally reaching the solution to a question whose significance for the Entwicklungsgeschischte of organic forms must not be underestimated (13). In Moravia the German term was understood as history of heredity. In April 1867 in his letter to C. Nageli (1817-91) Mendel wrote: "I knew that the results I obtained were not easily compatible with our contemporary scientific knowledge, and that under the circumstances publication of one such isolated experiment was doubly dangerous; dangerous for the experimenter and for the cause he represented." In next lines he added: "I dont believe I can be accused of having left the realm of experimentation." (14)

The assimilation of the origin and essence Mendel?s discovery was recently aptly described in Science: (15) "Possessed with remarkable foresight, Brno?s civic leaders organized societies to promote scientific research, citing the importance of discoveries such as those of Copernicus and Newton and expressing hope that the world would someday be similarly indebted to a son of Brunn (Brno). This extravagant hope was indeed to be fulfilled." Briefly describing how C.F. Napp, abbot of the Augustinian monastery, kept "his eye out for scientifically trained men to join his re

Vitezslav Orel

Barvicova 51,
Brno, Czech Republic