The Abbey at Genome
There is no fixed pathway for moving through the various activities to be found on Genome Island. You can start either in the Abbey or the Tower. You will probably understand what is going on with some activities if you have previously done some other activities. In the sections that follow, I will treat each activity as an independent entity, but suggest possible sequences for activities in a particular location. Much of the information you find here will also be found in notecards associated with the signs that describe each activity. In general, reading the informational notecards will give you the background you need for making sense of the activity.
The Abbey is a fairly relaxed representation of Mendel's Abbey, the Abbey of St. Thomas that still stands in Brno in the Czech Republic. The actual working Abbey was larger and more ornate, and of course included the residences of the monks in addition to various common areas and the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady. The closest resemblance between the “miniabbey” on Genome Island and the actual Abbey might be to the reading rooms behind the magnificent abbey library. Since the reading rooms may have overlooked Mendel's experimental plot, as they do on Genome, there could be a soupcon of historical accuracy. The Abbey serves two pedagogic functions. It can comfortably seat 30 avatars at a somewhat anachronistic glass conference table, and is a good place to gather for discussion or general instruction. The Abbey also houses a set of 8 short slide shows that summarize the principles of Mendelian genetics.
Historical items in the Abbey
The ambience of the abbey owes much to reproductions of various historical objects from the Mendel Museum, now housed at the Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno. I am immensely grateful to the Museum for granting permission to use images from their web site in the construction of these objects. Each of the objects contains snippets of information about Mendel's life and work. Visitors interested in exploring Mendel's life beyond these snippets might enjoy one or both of two Mendel biographies displayed on the Abbey grounds. In each case, the information is obtained by clicking on the object itself. Visitors are prompted to do so by the “Click for information” signs that hover above each object. The following historical items are displayed in the Abbey:
Photograph of Mendel and other monks. This photograph hangs on the front wall of the Abbey. Mendel was born 20 July 1822, the only son of a tenant farmer in Hyncice, now in the Czech Republic. He entered the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in 1843. The Abbey was an important research center in this time period, and the Abbot, Cyril Napp, sent Mendel to the University of Vienna and then encouraged him in the development of a research project after his return to the Abbey. This photo of Mendel and his fellow monks was taken in 1862.
Mendel, first from the right in the back row, is holding a fuchsia, his favorite flower. A local horticulturalist, J.N. Twrdy, even developed a fuchsia cultivar named "The Prelate Mendel." The Mendel fuchsia was described as a "large, luxuriant, early blooming, unusually beautiful flower with pale blue petals shading into violet."
Versuche uber Pflanzen-Hybriden (Mendel, 1866): A copy of Mendel’s most famous publication – Studies on Plant Hybrids – is found on the table beneath the photograph of the monks. Mendel began his studies on plant hybrids in 1856 and presented his findings at the local natural history society in 1865. Studies on Plant Hybrids sets out the basic rules for inheritance for all organisms that have two parents. Mendel presented this work to a local scientific society in 1865, and published his paper in 1866.The text of Mendel's paper in the original German and an annotated translation in English, can be seen by following the link to MendelWeb.
The table near the Abbey door also hold two other works of interest:
Grundzuege der Wissenschaftliche Botanik (Basics of Scientific Botany) published by Matthias Schleiden in 1849. While he was at the University of Vienna, Mendel would have learned about the recently developed cell theory of Matthias Schleiden and others. Schleiden’s book lies on a table under the photograph of the monks. At Vienna, Mendel also studied plant physiology with Franz Unger. Unger himself had contributed to cell theory by proposing that plant cells arose by division rather than being generated de novo.
Both Schleiden and Unger also subscribed to the idea that experiments in the life sciences should try to apply mathematical laws to the behavior of organisms. Mendel was clearly influenced by these ideas. The thought that a new plant originated from the union of two cells, one from each parent, could have led Mendel to the idea that the physical traits of a plant could be thought of in terms of pairs of parental factors.
Gartner: Besuche und Beobachtungenüber die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich: One of Mendel's important predecessors was the botanist Carl. Friedrich Gartner, whose monograph on hybridization in plants is seen on the table near Schleiden’s book. Mendel had a copy of this paper, and studied and annotated it extensively. Gartner's review of his own work and that of other plant hybridizers described many of the phenomena that Mendel was to note in his own study on plant hybrids. Mendel even worked with many of the plant traits studied previously by other investigators.
However, Gartner failed to analyze his data in the way that Mendel did. Mendel's view of plant hybrids was shaped by his studies with Professor Franz Unger at the University of Vienna. Unger believed that both parents participated equally in the production of hybrid offspring, that the features of an individual were the summation of individual elements, and that progeny arose from a single cell formed by the fusion of parental gametes. All of Unger's ideas found their way into Mendel's work.
Gartner proposed that the instability of hybrids was an indication that species had a fixed character that could not change. Mendel disagreed with him on this point, and reinterpreted Gartner's own data in terms of his (Mendel's) own theories.
Mendel’s Abbatial Crest: Mendel’s Abbatial shield hangs over the fireplace on the lower level of the Abbey. When Mendel became Abbott of St Thomas Monastery on March 30, 1868, he chose this crest to be his personal emblem. Some of the symbols on the crest are religious, like the cross in the upper right quadrant of the shield and the Alpha and Omega, representing Christ as the beginning and end, in the lower right quadrant.
Others are more personal, like the fuschia flower in the upper left quadrant. The fuschia also appears in Mendel's hand in the group picture that was taken at the monastery in 1862. In the lower left quadrant, the burning heart and clasped hands represent charity and brotherhood, symbols of Mendel's Augustinian order.
Above the shield are the miter and crozier, crowned with the prelate's hat. Below the shield is a pectoral cross.
Stations of the Cross: This set of 8 short slideshows summarizes the principles discovered by Mendel, using modern terminology. The terms “gene”, “allele”, “homozygous” etc are employed here, although they were not used by Mendel himself. Several of the slideshow presentations direct visitors to a garden that is visible through a window adjacent to the presentation panel. The information presented in these slide shows is important for understanding the crosses found in the Greenhouse and Gardens. Principles covered by the slideshow include the following:
Genes come in pairs, with one from each parent.
Pairs of genes can be either similar (homozygous) or different (heterozygous).
The trait expressed in heterozygotes is dominant.
Dominance may be incomplete.
Genes can be represented by symbols like R and r.
Phenotypes represent the expression of genes; genotypes represent the gene that are present.
With dominant traits, a phenotype may have more than one genotypes.
The Law of Segregation: In heterozygotes, each allele goes to half of the gametes. Parental gametes unite at random in all possible combinations. Random gamete behavior accounts for the progeny ratios observed in crosses.
Monohybrids differ for one pair of genes; diihybrids differ for two pair of genes.
Dihybrids can be produced in different ways.
The Law of Independent Assortment. In dihybrids, each pair of alleles segregates independently of other pairs of alleles. All possible combinations of alleles produced with equal probability in gametes.
The progeny of dihybrids can have all possible combinations of genotypes.
Teleport to the upper level reading room: Near the door you will see two candles in holders. These are teleports to the upper level of the Abbey, where you will find additional items.
Letters from Naegeli: After the publication of his work on plant hybrids, Mendel carried on a correspondence with the botanist Karl Naegeli. These letters are located on the upper level of the Abbey under the painting of Mendel as Abbot. Between 1867 and 1873, Mendel sent Naegeli a copy of his publication on peas, and other letters describing experients that he did not publish elsewhere. He even sent Naegeli seeds that he invited Naegeli to plant to verify Mendel's observations.
Although he was complimentary about Mendel's meticulous research methods, Naegeli's reception of Mendel's theories was unenthusiastic. There is no record that he followed up with Mendel's seeds, and he suggested that Mendel work with another plant -- the composite hawkweed (Hieracium).
Hawkweed turned out to be a very poor choice for genetic studies, since the seeds habitually develop without fertilization, and contain the genes only of the female parent. Because of this mode of reproduction, the patterns Mendel had seen in his peas could not be repeated with hawkweed, and Mendel found working with this plant discouraging. In addition his administrative responsibilities as Abbot of St. Thomas Monastery made it difficult for Mendel to continue his scientific studies and he eventually abandoned his correspondence with Naegeli.
Origin of Species: A copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species lies on a small table near the bookcases on the rear wall of the Abbey. Mendel read and annotated Darwin's work with great interest, but there is no evidence that Darwin returned the favor. Ironically, although Darwin's theory of Natural Selection could have benefited from a coherent explanation of how traits were transmitted from parents to offspring, Darwin never mentioned Mendel's work, even in later editions of the Origin of Species. The Darwin library contained a book (Focke's Plant Hybridization) in which Mendel's work was (rather vaguely) described, but pages of that section had never been cut.
It is possible that even if Darwin had read Mendel, he might have stuck with his own theory of inheritance: that each part of an organism contained particles of information -- pangenes -- which migrated into the germ cells as they were produced. Although Darwin expressed himself as willing to abandon his pangenes if he found a better theory, he never did so. On the other hand, since he did incorporate other theories from geology and the social sciences in developing his theory of Natural Selection, he might have recognized the value of Mendel's ideas, if he had read and understood them.
It was only in the mid 20th century that the ideas of genetics were finally combined with those of evolutionary theory.
Portrait of Mendel as Abbot: In 1868, after the death of Abbot Napp in 1867, Mendel was elected Abbot of the St. Thomas Monastery. He served as Abbot until his own death in 1884 at the age of 61. A portrait of Mendel in his abbatial robes hangs in the reading room on the second level of the monastery. This portrait was painted only after Mendel’s death, so its presence here during the period of Mendel's work is anachronistic.
As many scientists who become administrators have found, serving as Abbot reduced the time that Mendel had to continue to pursue his own research projects. Ironically, because he was no longer teaching, he was also distanced from colleagues with whom he could have discussed his work.
Although not totally ignored among other plant breeders, Mendel's work was not widely understood in his own lifetime, but Mendel was confident that one day it would be. In his own words:
Though I have suffered some bitter moments in my life, I must thankfully admit that most of it has been pleasant and good. My scientific work has brought me a great deal of satisfaction, and I am convinced that it will not be long before the whole world acknowledges it.
The whole world did acknowledge it about 12 years after Mendel’s death, when Mendel's work was rediscovered in 1900 by DeVries, Correns, and VonTschermak.
Punnett Squares: On the upper floor of the Abbey is a set of six slideshows that illustrate the use of Punnett Squares in one and two-factor crosses. On the north wall are different types of crosses with one pair of genes (Aa x Aa and Aa x aa). On the south wall are different types of crosses with two pair of genes (AaBb x AaBb, AaBb x Aabb, AaBb x aabb). In each case, the layout of the Punnett Square, the representation of parental gametes, and the filling in of the progeny squares are illustrated. In the third slideshow on the north wall are "mystery squares" in which the visitor is challenged to fill in missing parts.