Gregor Mendel was an Austrian monk who in the 19th century worked out the basic laws of inheritance, even before the term "gene" had been coined. In his monastery garden, Mendel performed thousands of crosses with garden peas. Mendel explained his results by describing two laws of inheritance that introduced the idea of dominant and recessive traits.
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Gregor Mendel, the Austrian monk laboring away in his garden in what is now Czechoslovakia with his pea plants, worked in relative unknown obscurity. [But he] did publish his results in 1865, showing that in fact you could model the inheritance of certain characteristics, such as wrinkled or smooth, by simple mathematical principles. It took another 35 years for his work to be rediscovered, but it provides the real fundamentals of understanding the genetic basis of inheritance, namely dominant and recessive traits upon which we now build much of human genetics.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health; Former Director, National Human Genome Research Institute
Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, is noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his visionary leadership of the Human Genome Project, a complex multidisciplinary scientific enterprise directed at mapping and sequencing human DNA. Dr. Collins was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008. His research has led to the identification of genetic variants associated with type 2 diabetes and the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. In 2007, Dr. Collins received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, for his revolutionary contributions to genetic research.