Mendel x Mendeleev x Mengele

Today I’ll venture outside the otaku territory I’ve been writing about until now to bring you some science. In the past couple of months it has come to my attention that I have those three men I’ve placed in the title field quite mixed up. Just like with Touhou fandom, I’ve decided to look them up and write a post about them while I’m at it. If you’re familiar with all three of them, then it would probably be a waste of time for you to read this, but if you are not I hereby cordially invite you to join me in my enlightenment.

Gregor Mendel

I learned about Gregor Mendel in middle school, when being taught about genetics. I was told he was a 19th century monastery doctor, who noticed the pea plants in the monastery vegetable patch had different colored petals, ranging from pure white to pure pink. He began playing around with a brush, studying the color variations and on the basis of this research formed Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance.

That’s all very nice until you look him up and find out the facts are ever so slightly different…

He was born in a village that is now Hynčice, Czech Republic, studied physics and philosophy  at University of Olomouc, then trained as a priest in Brno with two-years of studies in Vienna under professor Doppler. He then returned to the abbey in Brno to teach physics and later become the abbot. The abbey is important because of its huge experimental garden, where he studied the aforementioned pea plants.

His theory was that the plants have a pair off alleles, for each and every trait, not just the color, as I was led to believe. An offspring gains one of the pair for each trait from each of his parents. Gregor Mendel discovered there were certain natural laws which caused a beautifully regular distribution of dominant and recessive alleles – if each of the parents had one dominant and one recessive for each of their traits (highly improbable, don’t you think?) one in four offsprings would receive two dominant alleles, two in four would receive one dominant and one recessive, and the fourth of the four would receive two recessive alleles. This is called the Law of Segregation.

The second law of genetics is called Inheritance Law. It is rather straightforward – unless the genes are linked in some way, the genes the offspring inherits for each trait are chosen independently. For example, your eye-color has nothing to do with your inherent risk of obesity.

While he is most-known for laying down the basis of modern genetics, in his time he was famous for his writings on meteorology.

Dmitri Mendeleev

I must say the English transcription is as heart-wrenching as ever. So, Дмитрий Менделеев was known to me, as to most, for the periodic table of elements. He was born in Siberia, but later studied in Saint Petersburg and became a teacher of sciences. After he completed his Doctor’s degree, he gradually led the Saint Petersburg University to become a well-known center of chemistry research.

So what did he work on? In the Bureau of Weights and Measures, he formulated new standards for vodka. He investigated the composition of petroleum. Now we’ve gotten to the discovery I (and most folks) know him for – the periodic table. However extensive the table is today, Mendeleev’s first draft noted under ten elements. While gathering material for his book on inorganic chemistry, he noticed patterns in the elements’ properties and similarities among the basic groups known by then – halogens, alkali metals and alkaline earth metals. In the end the devised a table of elements, in which those showed similarities in vertical, horizontal, and diagonal orientations. With such an organized, but incomplete, diagram in front of him he predicted several elements with all their chemical traits to fit the empty spaces with a 70% success rate. Some just don’t exist. Unless of course Mendeleev was right and today’s scientists are mistaken.

Josef Mengele

The third of these men is, according to my mother, not worthy of being called a scientist. He was a Nazi officer with doctorates in anthropology and medicine, who served as a physician at the Third Reich’s largest concentration camp, Auschwitz. He took up a post at a different camp before and after SS abandoned Auschwitz he went through a couple of others, but when talking about Josef Mengele, the “scientist”, his 21-month stay at Auschwitz is the most important.

He jumped at the opportunity to use inmates for experiments on heredity and took some interest in physical abnormalities, such as dwarfism. He often chose children to become his victims, as those were less wary of his intentions. He also had quite a penchant for identical twins, a rough estimate of 1500 pairs of twins went through his hands. Anyway, attempting genetic modification (injecting chemicals into the children’s eyes), amputations, sterilization, sewing the twins together to make Siamese twins,…

I think I’ll stop here, his practices were a bit gruesome to say the least.

***

I think I can now safely proclaim I won’t be mistaking these men anymore.

Remember, bloggers, that proof-reading is vital, but in my case it lead to a silent (on account of a sore throat) exclamation over the “TL;DR”-ness of this post. Simply said, congratulations to those who will manage to read this in its entirety.

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One comment on “Mendel x Mendeleev x Mengele

  1. Eckhard Festag says:

    I don’t know about Mengele, but Mendel and Mendeleev had one thing in common: Both scientists discovered gross characteristics having to do with, respectively, genetics and the chemical elements, leading other scientists, in both cases, to strive to uncover the detailed mechanisms underlying that gross behavior. In Mendel’s case, his original paper lay undiscovered until about 1900, but from that time the race was on to determine the identity and structure of the basic element of heredity, the gene, and specifically, DNA. That was finally accomplished in 1953, if I remember right. In Mendeleev’s case, the probability of the existence of atoms was enhanced in the 19th century as a result of Dalton’s work in chemistry, but the case for the atom was clinched by Einstein’s 1905 paper explaining Brownian motion. After that, it was a matter of elucidating the structure of the atom with a view to explaining the chemical affinities of the various elements. That work, involving quantum mechanics, was completed by 1930, much of it done by American chemist Linus Pauling, who barely missed sketching the correct structure of DNA in the fifties, that honor falling to Crick and Watson instead.

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