Mendel’s legacy between Brno and Vienna

To mark the anniversary, the Mendel Museum in Brno had what is believed to be the world’s largest pea made and sent it on a tour: here, for example, in front of the opera house in the capital of Moravia. / Photo: Mendel Museum

by Anna Goldenberg

The pea sighted in Vienna in the spring of 2022 was seven meters tall. Gregor Mendel would probably have racked his brains over how this cultivation succeeded. The inflatable pea had traveled from his hometown of Brno and made a stop at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) and the University in Vienna as part of the anniversary year. It also paid a visit to the Science Ball.

On the occasion of Mendel’s 200th birthday in 2022, a two-year project was dedicated to the transnational legacy of the abbot. It was co-financed by the EU’s Interreg Austria-Czech Republic program. After all, during Mendel’s lifetime, half of Brno’s population was German-speaking. The main partners in Brno are the Augustinian Monastery and Masaryk University, and in Vienna, 130 kilometers away, BOKU and the University of Vienna. Several conferences were part of the project, including the Mendel Genetics Conference in Brno in July and the Mendel Symposium of the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Klosterneuburg in October. In Vienna, the focus was on science education.

In cooperation with the Natural History Museum, the researchers designed school workshops. “School is often far away from research,” says Barbara Fischer, who coordinated the project for the University of Vienna. “What children learn about heredity then stops at Mendel.” For example: How does plumage coloration develop in budgies and flamingos? In the former, plumage color is genetically determined; in the latter, it’s determined by diet, meaning genes and environmental influences often interact.

Mendel’s greenhouse in the monastery garden was destroyed by a storm in the mid-19th century. As part of the project, a new glasshouse was built in Brno and opened in November 2022. However, peas are no longer grown here – but new ideas. It is now part of the Mendel Museum, located in the monastery. Lectures and workshops are to be held here. The passionate teacher Mendel would have liked that.

Anna Goldenberg is a journalist and author in Vienna. She regularly writes about science for the “Falter” and comments on politics and society in the “Presse” newspaper. In 2018, her book about her family history “Versteckte Jahre. Der Mann, der meinen Großvater rettete” (“The Man Who Saved My Grandfather”), was published by Paul Zsolnay Verlag, and in 2020 the English translation by New Vessel Press New York.