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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Commemorating the father of genetics
Gregor Mendel statue: BBC
Only after death was his greatness recognised
The monastery where Gregor Mendel carried out his groundbreaking experiments could be made a centre of scientific discovery.

The monk's pioneering study of pea plants at Brno in the Czech Republic, 150 years ago, laid the foundations for the science of genetics.

Following a row over how Mendel's life and work should be remembered, scientists are proposing that a research institute be set up at the site.

It would form the cornerstone of a new complex, incorporating an existing small museum that is largely devoted to religious material. But more money is needed for the project, say Kim Nasmyth and Dieter Schweizer, the two Austrian scientists who are co-ordinating the campaign.

In a letter to the scientific journal Nature, they write: "The proposal is that the monastery site could eventually house a research institute, a conference centre with a modern lecture hall, and a museum of genetics, as well as providing courses for graduates and schoolchildren alike.

"It could create a forum for discussions on genetics and the wider ethical issues," they add.

Religious balance

The move follows growing concern over the future of Mendel's birthplace. There is already a small museum at the monastery but the display was closed earlier this year.

The current abbot, Lukas Evzen Martinec, wanted a new exhibition that had a greater religious content. But scientists had complained that there was "an air of indifference" in the city towards its influential citizen.

Brno skyline BBC
The city of Brno may benefit from the plan
Now, the two parties have come up with a compromise that has the support of local authorities.

Plans are being prepared to stage a new exhibition in 2002 and hold a genetics conference at the same time.

Mendel first entered the monastery at Brno in 1868. His study there of how pea plant characteristics passed from one generation to the next showed the roots of genetic inheritance.

Mendel's work received little attention in his lifetime and it was many decades before his contribution to science was fully recognised.

See also:

01 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Long road to inheritance
30 May 00 | Human genome
The history of genetics
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