Science: Pea to Pennsylvania

On a cold, calm February night in 1865, the members of a little science society gathered in the town of Brünn, Austria, to hear a paper on inheritance in plants by an Augustinian monk from the nearby monastery. Gregor Johann Mendel wore a long, black coat and his trousers were tucked into his high boots. He was a plump, genial man with bright, blue eyes.

Mendel had failed as a parish priest because he could not bear to go near a sick or suffering person. At the monastery he did better. Breeders already...

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