On the origins of the Mendelian laws

J Hered. 1984 Jan-Feb;75(1):67-9. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a109868.


The two laws usually attributed to Mendel were not considered as laws by him. The first law, the law of independent segregation occurs in Mendel's paper as an assumption or hypothesis. Hugo de Vries refers to this as a law discovered by Mendel. This appears to be the first use of an expression equivalent to Mendel's law. In his paper de Vries did not associate the observable characters with structures having a causitive role. That was done by Correns, who transformed the law of segregation of characters into a law of the segregation of anlagen. The second law, the law of independent assortment, is present in embryonic form in Mendel's paper. Here the independent assortment of characters appears as a secondary conclusion to a series of experiments involving several pairs of traits. Mendel repeats the primary conclusion later in the paper but not the secondary one. This leads us to believe that he considered the secondary conclusion as of lesser importance. We note in this context that the 9:3:3:1 ratio commonly associated with the idea of independent assortment, and attributed to Mendel, also does not occur in his paper. A careful reading of the papers of his discoverers shows it was Correns who first drew attention to this ratio. However, he did not formulate the second Mendelian law even though it was clearly implied. Neither was it stated by de Vries. Indeed, the first clear separation of the two laws and the naming of the second law was by T. H. Morgan some 13 years later.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Genetics / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century