Over the weekend I was going through my family album and was surprised to see how similar to my mother I look when she as at the same age as me today.  This got me to think about genetics and why we look so much like our parents….

Earth, the only planet known to support life, is home of thousands of different species of organisms. All the living organisms on earth have two main purpose in life. Survival and continuation of species. So, reproduction is one of the characteristic feature of all living organisms.
But, many of us have always wondered as kids as to why a sheep always gives birth to a lamb, a cow to a calf and humans only to human babies?
I have also heard a local proverb from my mother, when she was stressing the importance of work, that if you sow the seeds of neem, you will never get a mango tree.
Well, the question doesn’t stop at that point. So, if the offsprings are always same or identical to the parents, why do they show differences? Because, without those differences, all people in the world should have looked similar!! But, that doesn’t happen.
When we look at our own families, we notice that some of our characteristics are not only from our parents, but also from distant aunt, a far relative or great grandfather. Some of the siblings look very similar and some look very different. So, now don’t wonder how to get the answer.
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There is a branch of science to answer all these questions. It is Genetics.
Genetics is a branch of biology which deals with Inheritance and Variation.
Inheritance is the transfer of characters from parents to offsprings and variation is the differences observed, the degree by which progeny differ from their parents!!

Meaning: The word Genetics is derived from a Greek word Genesis, which means origin.
Aristotle believed that the traits [characteristics] of parents blended in offsprings. He said that, “We are each a mixture of our parent’s traits, with father supplying the life force and mother supplying building blocks.”  Blending of genes, is now explained under the light of multiple gene effect.
Other theories included, passing of traits was that of Inheritance of acquired characteristics by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, the pangenesis of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton’s reformulation of pangenesis.
Gregor Johann Mendel – Father of Genetics
The modern understanding of genetics, is due to the contributions of Mendel, a scientist and an Augustinian monk who studied patterns of inheritance in pea plants.
Mendel published a paper ‘Experiments In Plant Hybridization’ on his studies of inheritance done on pea plants in 1866. Mendel proposed three principles of inheritance in his paper, which are now, the foundation stones in the field of genetics.
Was Mendel the first to study inheritance in modern times? What was his success secret?
No, Mendel started his work, after much work was done by other contemporary scientists and also on the same pea plant. But, they all failed to analyze their experimental results.
Mendel, because of his mathematical precision, was able to record and analyze the results of the experiments mathematically. This was the secret behind the success of Mendel. Based on these results, Mendel postulated three laws which are the basics of genetics. These three laws are the keys to answers of all the questions raised in the beginning.

Rediscovery and Honoring the Legacy
The sad part in the study of genetics is the realization that though Mendel’s work was published in 1866, it remained unnoticed and unrecognized till 1900. This was because, the scientific community during the period of Mendel, rejected his work as the data was interpreted mathematically.
The three scientists, Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns and Tschermak, independently rediscovered Mendel’s work, during their experiments. It was then that, the importance of Mendel’s work recognized. With the development of science and technology, scientists started proving and accepting Mendel’s work as outstanding and called him Father Of Genetics.

The Last words of Mendel – The preface to Miracle ahead.
Mendel died on 6th January, 1884, with the pain of rejection. But, the last words of Mendel confirms that the joy of satisfaction and the belief that his work will be honored filled his heart before he died.

“My scientific studies have afforded me great gratification, and I am convinced that, it will not be long before the whole world acknowledges the results of my work”.
Gregor Mendel

The secrets of heredity and variation were clearly understood because of Mendel’s work. To get the answers for all the questions raised in the beginning of this article, keep reading as I write more about Mendelian Genetics.

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