The Mendelianum, Brno

Ancient Brno's monastery

Ancient Brno's monastery by M.Pardy. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Brno, the capital of Moravia, is a commercial city, containing the Augustinian monastery where Gregor Mendel discovered the laws of inheritance named after him. Part of the monastery is now a museum in his memory, called the Mendelianum. A patch of garden in front of the entrance is said to be Mendel’s actual experimental plot, where he did the thousands of hybridization experiments that were the basis for his results.

The number “2” is the magic number here. The statistics of Mendel’s results are the same as the statistics of tossing two coins simultaneously, and it made good sense to Mendel, for there are two sexes, allowing each metaphorical coin to be derived from one parent. It makes sense in modern terms, too, for chromosomes (not yet discovered in Mendel’s day) are generally paired. These basic principles emerge clearly from a visit to the museum, presented by means of detailed posters. Flowers planted in Mendel’s garden patch are also intended to help, but they are merely floral representations of numbers (three red and one white in the second generation, for example), unrelated to anything to do with hybridization. They may even cause confusion by obscuring the statistical nature of actual hybridization experiments.

The former refectory of the monastery now contains a sequence of showcases and posters to display the facts of Mendel’s life, education, and work, and they go on from there to a few highlights of modem genetics, such as the discovery of chromosomes and the role of DNA. Another room (a former chapter hall) is now a conference room, with contemporary furniture and a fine portrait of monk Gregor. There is also a good photograph of Mendel with some of his monastic colleagues, which shows them as anything but unworldly monks-it’s more like the annual group picture of a present-day departmental faculty.

Website: http://www.mendelianum.cz [in Czech]

DNA Cycle Path, Cambridge, England

DNA cyclepath to Shelford

DNA cyclepath to Shelford, by Keith Edkins. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The colour code is as follows Adenine:Green, Cytosine:Blue, Guanine:Yellow, Thymine:Red.

Cambridge, a city known for its abundant bicycles and cutting edge scientific research, has finally found a way to combine these two thingsā€¦ In 2005, as a celebration of the 10,000th mile of the national cycle network, Cambridgeshire County Council and Sustrans joined forces with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to create a DNA-inspired cycle path. The path, which runs from Addenbrooke’s Hospital to Great Shelford, is decorated with 10,257 colourful stripes which represent the four nucleotides of the BRCA2 gene.

BRCA2 (Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein) was discovered at the Sanger Institute by Prof. Michael Stratton and Dr Richard Wooster in 1995. This tumor suppressor gene binds to and regulates another protein to mend DNA breaks. Mutations of this gene produce short proteins that are unable to repair broken DNA and can lead to the development of various cancers. BRCA2 is just one of the 30,000 genes in the human genome; if the entire human genome were laid down at the same scale, the path would circle Earth about ten time.

DNA Helix, Cambridge

DNA Helix, Cambridge, by Elena The. Image used with author's permission.

As it is, the path runs alongside a railway for two miles through the flat countryside of south Cambridgeshire and has become a popular commuter route since being opened by Nobel Prize winner Sir John Sulston.

Each end of the path is marked by a sculpture of the DNA double helix magnified 750,000,000 times. To find the first sculpture and begin your cycle to Great Shelford, follow the signposts dotted around the Addenbrooke’s site.

Video of the route


Map of the route


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