Happy Birthday, Gregor Mendel

GMI celebrates Gregor Mendel Bicentennial with Lecture by Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse

On July 20, Gregor Mendel would have celebrated his 200th birthday. The Gregor Mendel Institute celebrated its namesake’s life, work and legacy in a series of events that underscored the importance of research and education. 

Sir Paul Nurse and the most important question in biology

The anniversary week culminated with a lecture by Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, held in the Festsaal of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. 

In his talk, geneticist and cell biologist Sir Paul Nurse, Director of The Francis Crick Institute, sought to answer a fundamental question in biology: “What is life?” Defining life as a collection of characteristics that start with an understanding of the cell, Sir Paul introduced the audience to great ideas of biology that describe the attributes of life. From those, he derived core principles to get closer to defining what life is. In his talk, Sir Paul described chemical reactions as “expressions of life within the cell.” Life, Sir Paul pointed out, is further characterized by information encoded in DNA, with “heredity written into DNA.” Although the audience did not get an answer, as Sir Paul warned in advance, the attendees engaged in a Q&A session to discuss fundamental biological questions with the speaker. 

Eva Wallner, a developmental biologist in Liam Dolan’s Research Group at GMI, found inspiration in the Nobel laureate’s lecture. “Sir Paul Nurse communicated complex ideas about the origin of life in a very simple way, in particular how cells form multicellular organisms and organize themselves.”

Outreach Captures the Imagination

On Gregor Mendel’s birthday, GMI also led a multipronged effort to captivate audiences with the storied legacy of its namesake. Reaching out to a young audience, Johannes Rötzer and Sebastian Deiber, PhD students at GMI, explained basic Mendelian genetics at Vienna Children’s University (Kinderuni Wien). The event brought over 600 students to the Austrian Academy of Sciences for a day of direct communication with scientists. 

On its social media channels, GMI unveiled a film and exhibit about Mendel’s life, education, and research. The film can be found on GMI’s Youtube channel, while the exhibit is open for families visiting the Vienna Open Lab at the Vienna BioCenter. Panels at the exhibit link visitors with QR codes to the "Mendel 200" jubilee website

Mendel’s Science in the Media

Scientists made media and editorial contributions as part of the anniversary. Der Standard produced a special research section in its paper about the careers of “Gregor Mendel’s heirs,” early career researchers Sebastian Deiber, Johannes Rötzer, Susanna Streubel, and Marieke Trasser. Senior Group Leader Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid spoke with Ö1, Austria’s national public radio service, and Scientific Director Magnus Nordborg with the Austrian Press Agency