Erich von Tschermak-Seysenegg
and the Rediscovery of Mendel's Laws of Inheritance
In 1900, Vienna was the capital of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and a centre of both science and the arts: The names of Theodor Billroth, Karl Landsteiner, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Boltzmann, Ernst Mach, Arthur Schnitzler, Robert Musil, Karl Kraus, Gustav Klimt or Otto Wagner are linked to pioneering work in the fields of medicine, prychology, physics, philosophy, literature, fine arts and architecture, to mention just a few disciplines.
   The laws of inheritance, published by the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel in 1865 and 1866 in Brno, remained largely ignored until 1900, when time was ripe for their "rediscovery" by the German botanist Carl Correns, the Dutch botanist Hugo De Vries and the Austrian agronomist Erich von Tschermak-Seysenegg. While Correns and De Vries were mainly interested in theoretical concepts such as the mutation theory, Tschermak recognized the practical value of these laws and applied them for developing new cultivars of crop plants. So, 100 years ago, Tschermak contributed to a considerable rise of agricultural plant breeding and to an increased publicity of applied genetics.

   Erich Tschermak (1871-1962) and his scientific achievements in the field of applied genetics are nearly forgotten at present. Therefore, the goal of this documentation is to retell Tschermak's story and to present him as a scientist and plant breeder. First of all, the "independent" rediscovery of Mendel's laws by Correns, De Vries and Tschermak in 1900, which has been criticized and questioned by historians of science, is revisited. "Open questions" will be raised in the light of new evidence on that matter.
   While Erich Tschermak's contribution to the rediscovery of Mendel remains doubtful, his early breeding activities can be considered as pioneering. Using the Mendelistic basis as a starting point, he developed numerous new cultivars in nearly all of the important crop species. Moreover, he initiated the establishment of breeding stations and research institutes for the genetic improvement of crop plants.

Materials about Tschermak

1. Exhibition
A scientific exhibition on Tschermak-Seysenegg was presented at the University of Agricultural Sciences Vienna, Gregor Mendel Str. 33 (A-1180 Vienna, Austria) between July 20 and September 15, 2000.

Contents --- Pictures --- Visitors (July 31, 2000)

2. CD-ROM (in preparation)
A CD-ROM containing all materials presented through the exhibition as well as numerous documents found in the estate of Tschermak at the Archive of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and in the Tschermak-collection of the University of Agricultural Sciences Vienna, is under preparation at present.

CD-ROM (in preparation)

3. On-line paper
E. von Tschermak-Seysenegg and the Austrian contribution to plant breeding (P. Ruckenbauer, 2000)

- Plant Breeding Division   (Home)

Last modified on January 2, 2003.
1 Übersicht Kurzbiographie, Erich von Tscherm