The Austrian monk Johann Gregor Mendel, 1822-1884, is known as the father of genetics. Mendel was born in Moravia and, after becoming a monk, studied mathematics and natural history for two years at the University of Vienna. Mendel joined an Augustinian monastery at Brno, now in the Czech Republic, as he needed financial support. He studied theology at Brno and became a priest, but he was not successful in the parish. Mendel attempted but failed the exams necessary to be a science teacher and returned to the monastery in 1853 to concentrate on his breeding experiments. Over the next eight years, Mendel carried out his now famous experiments on inheritance in the garden pea, Pisum sativum.
As a result of his painstaking and thorough work, we now understand the laws by which genes are inherited. The garden pea was an excellent choice for study as there are many varieties of peas with clear differences. Fortunately the features he studied have a genetic basis with alleles that are either dominant or recessive, which simplified the interpretation. As pea plants are normally self-pollinating, with the petals completely enclosing the reproductive parts, Mendel could control the breeding process with little or no interference of the flowers and removal of the anthers to prevent self-pollination, enabling Mendel largely to control the crosses that took place. The garden pea is easy to grow and large numbers of seeds are produced, so increasing the reliability of the findings.
Mendel presented his findings in 1865 and a year later they were published. Unfortunately his results were largely ignored until the early 1900s, when his findings were re-discovered, confirmed and extended.