Mendel Days 2022: Abstracts of Lectures


Daniel Fairbanks: Gregor Mendel’s Reception in the World

Gregor Mendel’s classic 1866 paper, Versuche über Pflanzenhybriden (“Experiments on Plant Hybrids”), is the foundational document for the science of genetics. His experimental results are extensive, and the interpretation he derived from them constitutes one of science’s most transformational theories. Mendel’s reception throughout the world, from the time of his experiments to the present, is a complex and extraordinary story. It consists of intermingled episodes of vigorous promotion, widespread acceptance, confirmation, expansion, resilience, controversy, political intrusion, neglect, mythmaking, tragedy, and heroism. Mendel’s theory was not entirely ignored during his lifetime, receiving praise in the local newspapers, and modest recognition in later publications. However, no one, including Mendel, recognised the breadth of its importance at the time. The rediscovery of Mendel’s experiments and theory in 1900 was “a complete revolution,” according to Bateson and Saunders, two of its leading proponents. By 1905, Mendelism had assumed the status of a new science, officially named genetics. Over the next half century, this new science rapidly expanded worldwide, supported and augmented by discoveries of the chromosomal basis of inheritance, the development of population and quantitative genetics, the modern synthesis of Mendelism and Darwinism, and ultimately elucidation of its molecular underpinnings. Yet opposition was never far below the surface. Beginning with heated disputes between Bateson and Weldon, subtle accusations of data manipulation arose in the early twentieth century, eventually expanding into the Mendel-Fisher controversy, fuelled by a mixture of legitimate statistical analysis, iconoclasm, and political motivations. Promoters of eugenics sought to exploit Mendelian and Darwinian science in a misguided effort to justify eugenic laws and some of the world’s most horrendous atrocities. The era of Lysenkoism spanned almost three decades, during which Mendel was discredited throughout much of the world, including in his homeland. This period was a time of both tragedy and heroism. Nevertheless, Mendel’s work has endured scientific opposition, political repression, and historical revision to remain as a paradigm of experimental science and one of the world’s most celebrated scientific triumphs.


Peter van Dijk: Gregor Mendel's grand international journeys

The life of a monk in the public mind is associated with isolation from society. However, Gregor Mendel was anything but a monk in recluse. It was already known that he had traveled to France and Italy, but only in recent years details of these train journeys have come to light. In 1862 he traveled to Paris and London for the world exhibition. The following year, 1863, he visited Italy, where the Pope received him in a group audience. These were all-in-organized pleasure trains, a novelty in the Austrian Empire of those days. The expensive journeys bear witness to Mendel's interest in culture and societal and scientific progress. That Mendel was a trendsetter testifies to his explorative character. In 1871 Mendel made a multi-day journey to Germany to attend an international bee congress in Kiel. Interesting details of these international journeys will be discussed.


Marek Vácha: From Mendel to CRISPR: Genetics, Its Uses and Abuses Throughout History

The lecture will discuss two topics based on Mendel’s discovery. First, especially in our Euro-Atlantic civilisation, science is perceived as a “candle in the dark” when searching for the absolute truth about the world. However, in many cases the search for this truth was conducted both through various ideologies, which is sadly evidenced by developments in genetics on our side of the Iron Curtain in the first two thirds of the 20th century, and through the scientific community’s conviction about expected results. Scientists never work in a social vacuum. The second topic, which stems from Mendel’s as well as Darwin’s work, is the birth of the optimistic eugenics of the 19th century, which led to pessimistic and horrific consequences in the first half of the 20th century. The Human Genome Project ushered in the phantom of a present-day lab-coat eugenics in the early 1990s. The technological possibilities of human genome editing today, including the editing of germlines, we stand today at the brink of a third wave of eugenics, with optimistic and deeply pessimistic perspectives.


David Iltis: Hugo Iltis: Mendel’s Biographer and Courageous Fighter Against Racism and Nazism

Hugo Iltis was a key figure in Brno history. Born in 1882, he developed an interest in Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, as a young student. This interest propelled him through much of his life as he published the definitive biography Mendel’s biography in 1924. This also lead to the opening of a Mendel Museum, and additional writings on Mendel.The second key interest of his life was fighting racism and injustice, particularly that of the Nazis. He wrote several books arguing against the Nazi racist pseudoscience. As a result of his activism, he and his family had to flee to the United States in 1939 prior to the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. His life and legacy is discussed.


Workshop: „Teaching Mendel and Genetics"

Lynn Chiu: Philosophy of science in informal science spaces: engaging with the science of inheritance at Deck50, NHM Wien

How can philosophy of science and biology inform science engagement activities in informal science spaces? This year, on the occasion of Gregor Mendel's 200th birthday, an evolutionary biologist (Barbara Fischer) and a philosopher of biology and science communicator (Lynn Chiu) put together a team of science communicators to develop a series of science engagement programs on the science of inheritance. In this roundtable discussion, I will talk about the philosophy of science, science communication, and new principles of inheritance that informed the program we developed at the Deck50 immersive science space of NHM Wien-- "Dem Rätsel der Vererbung auf der Spur" (On the trail of the mystery of inheritance). Of special interest is the use and usefulness of science centers as a space for interdisciplinary teams to investigate issues concerning the communication of new conceptual developments in science.


Eva Chocholová a Eliška Svobodová: Sharing the Fascination with Genetics in Mendel Museum

The last year has been a grand celebration of Mendel's life and work. We wanted to join the festivities by opening a new permanent exhibition Genetics: A Fascinating Journey into the Cell Nucleus. How and why did we make it? How can a museum share a passion for genetics with the public, especially children and students - potential future scientists? We will present the journey and outcome of the exhibition, together with programmes for schools.


Ines Méhu-Blantar: Open formats at Deck50 – inspired by Gregor Mendel

The Natural History Museum Vienna is one of the most important natural science museums in the world. Its earliest collections are over 250 years old. Today, around 30 million objects are under scientific care.With Deck50, an innovative room for science communication invites visitors of all ages to playfully explore connections between research and contemporary issues in society and allows inspiring insights into the world of science. The connection between research and society is made visible and tangible at DECK 50 in an intergenerational setting. One important function of deck 50 is to actively bridge science and society and to foster citizen science through open formats for people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. Together with various partners and associations, interested people and lay scientists are invited to expand their knowledge about the diversity of nature. On the occasion of the 200th birthday of Gregor Mendel, the open format“Vielfalt Kennenlernen: Gene” was realized together with partners from the Vienna Open Lab and the Gregor Mendel Institute and comprised a lecture, two hands-on lab activities, a dialogue station, and a final quiz.


Hana Svozilová: Popularization of genetics

How to show something as tiny as DNA? And how to explain Mendel's work? In 2022, we often explained genetic principles to kids and adults at events that cherished Mendel's heritage. How? And what worked and what did not? What were the questions people asked us the most? You will find out all of these in this talk - practical demonstrations included.


Peter Sziemer: I know that I know little - but is this enough?

With the enormous growth of biological knowledge, including genetics, the needs to teach new results in schools are growing, too. But there is - among others - one main problem: time. Teachers often don't have enough time to teach thrilling new results (even if "new" meant 20 years old), simply as there are not enough biology lessons. Of course cell biology and basic genetics - as the Mendelian laws - have to be presented first for general understanding. - But gene technics, CRISPR, the human genome project, epigenetics, the ideas about re-creating extinct species (e.g. Wooly Mammoth, Passenger Pigeon, Thylacine) and ethical aspects among others have often to be skipped due to a lack of time. Genetics is taught only during the last year of High School in Austria. And this 8th form is shorter already because of the preparation for the final exams (called "Matura" in Austria), which take place in May and June. My personal experiences of teaching genetics in an evening school in due course of lectures in biology for young adults give the same picture. 30 years of experience as a guide at the Vienna Natural History Museum told me that genetics play only a minor role in museums pedagogics, with the exception of a special exhibit on Charles Darwin and evolution in 2010 and the current Mendel workshop. Of course it is difficult to present genetics at a museum, as there is not so much to see in fascinating objects, but maybe in the future we will face this task too. In any case it needs well trained teachers and experienced museum staff to introduce pupils or visitors into this rather complex, yet fascinating topic.

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