Gregor Mendel’s principles of inheritance were based on his experiments with peas in the 1860s. 150+ years later, scientists have identified the gene for Mendel’s pea flower colour.

We inherit traits like eye colour, hair colour and tongue-rolling ability from our parents and grandparents. We now know that inherited traits are the result of genes passed from generation to generation.

Mendel and inheritance in peas

Over 150 years ago, Gregor Mendel wanted to find out how traits were inherited. He spent 8 years on an extensive study cross-breeding pea plants and recording the traits of their progeny. He looked at traits such as flower colour, flower position, plant height, seed colour, seed shape, pod colour and pod shape. In 1866, he published his findings. They were ignored by the science community at the time but later became the foundation of modern genetics.

Find out more about Mendel’s experiments.

Mendel’s principles of inheritance

Mendel found that inheritance involved factors that were passed from parents to offspring. He proposed 3 key principles, which are still used now to explain inheritance. In the early 1900s, these principles were refined as scientists discovered that chromosomes contained the genetic material responsible for passing traits from parents to offspring.

Find out more about Mendel’s principles of inheritance.

Mendel’s peas in the 21st century

We now know that genes are the unit of inheritance between generations. Genes are made of DNA and are carried in chromosomes. Using techniques to isolate, copy and engineer genes, scientists are gathering more and more information about the genes in different organisms and how they function.

In 2010, an international team of researchers, including scientists from Plant & Food Research in New Zealand, identified the gene responsible for Mendel’s pea flower colour. The researchers identified the gene in both purple and white flowering pea plants and discovered how it affects petal colour.

Read more about Mendel's work in the article Identifying Mendel’s pea genes.

Nobel prizewinner, Sir Paul Nurse recognised the importance of Mendel's work in his identification of Biology's 5 Big Ideas

Useful links

Celebrating 150 years since Mendel's lectures, this dynamic panel discussion explores the Mendelian picture of genetics and a more up-to-date picture of gene-environment interactions. Listen to the fascinating 'Mendel's legacy'.


Published 18 August 2011, Updated 18 June 2015