Mendel, memories and meaning | Natural genetics

In this issue of Natural genetics, we celebrate the legacy of Gregor Mendel, born 200 years ago. Let us also highlight the 30th anniversary of the launch of Natural genetics. The convergence of these two milestones helps us look back on how far the field of genetics has come, and also look forward to see where we are headed.

The foundations of genetics can be traced back to an 18th century monk’s garden and the humble pea plant. As we noted earlier, the field has made astonishing progress from the initial cataloging of trait segregation in the 1840s to the high-quality complete genome sequence of Pisum sativum few years ago. For this 200th anniversary of the birth of Gregor Mendel, this issue of Natural genetics features perspective and commentary articles that examine the history of Mendel’s discoveries, the legacy of geneticist WG Hill, and the future of plant genomics for crop improvement. Moreover, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the launch of Natural geneticswe invited founding editor Kevin Davies to share his story of the journal’s origins and beginnings.

First, there is a Historical Perspective article by Peter Van Dijk and colleagues that revisits contemporary sources to reconstruct Mendel’s findings within the context of the scientific knowledge of the time and Mendel’s likely exposure to new theories. This piece contains images from Mendel’s original notebooks, providing a window into the process of his research. The authors show that Mendel had a program of applied plant breeding but argue that he also had a program of scientific research, which led to the discovery of the rules of heredity. Mendel’s scientific research made a substantial contribution to the field of genetics, and we think it is interesting to consider these discoveries through the prism of the history of science.

Then there is a Perspective article from former colleagues of quantitative geneticist WG (Bill) Hill, who passed away in December 2021. This article offers a tour of Hill’s impressive and comprehensive contributions to developments in the field of genetics, including in the areas of population genetics, complex traits and evolution. In this tribute to Hill’s legacy, the authors connect his impact to Mendel and his discoveries, highlighting how theory leads to application and ultimately to the advancement of science. We believe it is illustrative to show what effect individuals can have on a field, while recognizing that their contributions are passed on (“inherited”) to the next generation of scientists, who then train the next generation. In this way, Mendel’s findings can be linked to Hill’s research and the research of his trainees, which continues to this day.

In addition to two articles returning to the field of genetics, this issue features a forward-looking commentary by Carol Nkechi Ibe on the current state and future prospects of agricultural genomics. In a world that faces increasingly severe stresses from climate change and population growth, it becomes crucial to carefully manage how we grow our food. The era of genomics has revolutionized agriculture and advanced breeding technologies far beyond what was known in Mendel’s time. To meet the challenges of a warming world, Ibe argues that more resources should be devoted to analyzing the understudied indigenous cultures of countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and that technologies and practices need to be more inclusive and accessible. Looking to the future, it is clear that global problems call for global solutions, and it is in everyone’s interest to democratize science.

Finally, to celebrate our 30th anniversary, we are pleased to present to you a Commentary from former Natural genetics editor-in-chief Kevin Davies. Here he shares the story of the paper’s launch with some behind-the-scenes anecdotes and memories, including vintage photographs from the 1990s. To add to the celebration, our cover this month is a tribute to the first issue of Natural genetics from 1992. The last 30 years have been an extremely exciting time for genetics and genomics, and we expect many more.

We hope you enjoy revisiting some of the stories that contribute to the deep tapestry that is the field of genetics and, in this context, contemplating where the field can and should go. Here are 200 years of exciting genetic discoveries!

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Mendel, memories and senses.
Nat Genet (2022).

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