Peas, Bees, Gender and Blue Eyes
What could they have in common? Thanks to Augustinian friar Gregor Johann Mendel, who studied peas and bees in a monastery garden, we now have the science of genetics, which explores the variation of inherited characteristics, such as gender and eye color.
2008 has been declared the “Year of Mendel” by Villanova University to celebrate both his monumental contribution to science and the 80th anniversary of the granting of the Mendel Medal, bestowed on those who exemplify scientific accomplishment and religious conviction.
Falvey Memorial Library brings to this celebration a Special Collections display entitled “Mendel in Falvey,” which showcases, through manuscripts, journal articles and books, some important writings on heredity and genetics, and also features a sketch of Mendel’s garden and writings on his beekeeping and meteorological studies.
Of special interest is a facsimile of the journal article printed in 1866 on Mendel’s pea experiments. The paper, “Experiments on Plant Hybridization,” was printed in the Proceedings of the Natural Sciences Society of Brünn from lectures given by Mendel in 1865. An original copy of these proceedings was presented to Villanova University by the Augustinians of the Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova at the Mendel Medal Award ceremony in 1999. This rare volume, one of the most important works in Special Collections, will be on display during the symposium “Mendel in the 21st Century,” September 21-23. The volume is generally available for consultation in the Special Collections Room.
After the publication of Mendel’s paper, very little notice was given to his findings until 1900. At that time, three separate scientists in Amsterdam, Tubingen (Germany) and Vienna independently realized that Mendel had performed similar experiments 40 years before them with similar results. A few years later in 1909 an English scientist, William Bateson, wrote Mendel’s Principles of Heredity, which is included in the display. Bateson is credited with introducing Mendel to the English-speaking world and suggesting the term “genetics” for the new science dealing with plant breeding and hybridization.
Also on display is a German edition of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species which is similar to the 1863 edition found in Mendel’s personal collection. Nobel Prize winners James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick are represented by a copy of their paper, “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids,” published in the April 1953 issue of the journal, Nature. The 2000 book, The Monk in the Garden by Robin Marant Henig, remains a good read for non-scientists and the 2006 publication by Cheryl Bardoe, Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas, is a beautifully illustrated book for children.
In addition to the display on second floor, two cases on the first floor illustrate the history of the Mendel Medal, courtesy of the Villanova University Archives.
“Mendel At Falvey” will be on display in Falvey Memorial Library until October 24, 2008.
Contributed and photographed by Natalie Tomasco