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Mendel’s Genes: Toward A Full Molecular Characterization

James B Reid, John J Ross

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Abstract The discipline of classical genetics is founded on the hereditary behavior of the seven genes studied by Gregor Mendel. The advent of molecular techniques has unveiled much about the identity of these genes. To date, four genes have been sequenced: A (flower color), LE (stem length), I (cotyledon color), and R (seed shape). Two of the other three genes, GP (pod color) and FA (fasciation), are amenable to candidate gene approaches on the basis of their function, linkage relationships, and synteny between the pea and Medicago genomes. However, even the gene (locus) identity is not known for certain for the seventh character, the pod form, although it is probably V. While the nature of the mutations used by Mendel cannot be determined with certainty, on the basis of the varieties available in Europe in the 1850s, we can speculate on their nature. It turns out that these mutations are attributable to a range of causes—from simple base substitutions and changes to splice sites to the insertion of a transposon-like element. These findings provide a fascinating connection between Mendelian genetics and molecular biology that can be used very effectively in teaching new generations of geneticists. Mendel’s characters also provide novel insights into the nature of the genes responsible for characteristics of agronomic and consumer importance.