About Mendel Lectures
- 21 years of rich tradition
- Honoring the legacy of J. G. Mendel
- Meet and Talk to the World´s Top Scientists Including Nobel Prize laureates
- Open to everyone
The lectures, held in the historic setting of the Augustinian Abbey in Old Brno where Gregor Mendel, the pioneer of genetics, conducted his groundbreaking work nearly two centuries ago, draw an annual audience of nearly a thousand undergraduates, PhD students, and scientists. Here, they have the unique opportunity to engage with leading figures in the global scientific community, fostering valuable connections and interactions. In this way, the Augustinian Abbey has once again emerged as a hub for scientific discourse and education. Over the course of its 21-year history, the Mendel Lectures have welcomed over 140 esteemed scientists, including 16 Nobel Prize laureates, to Brno, further enhancing its status as a prominent center for intellectual exchange.
The Mendel Lectures owe their inception to a collaborative effort among experts from various European institutions, including Anna and Kim Nasmyth from the United Kingdom, along with Jan Motlík from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. Professor Motlík, reflecting on his involvement, recalls, “I was a member of the Academic Council of the Academy of Sciences, which did everything it could to accommodate the so-called Brno Initiative. This initiative by leading world geneticists was an attempt to bring science back to the Abbey in Old Brno. The path was not easy, but eventually a mutual understanding was reached between the heads of the Abbey and the scientific community, in view of the importance and uniqueness of the mission of Gregor Mendel.
The year 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA structure, providing a remarkable opportunity to breathe new life into scientific activities at the Abbey. Professor Motlík fondly recalls the British Council's involvement, which included the generous donation of a replica of the original photograph featuring Watson and Crick with the DNA model. Simultaneously, a special lecture series was organized, laying the foundation for what we now know as the Mendel Lectures.
Anna Nasmyth, along with her husband Kim Nasmyth, one of the former organizers of the Lectures, shared her journey, saying, “My involvement with Brno began in 2000, with the planning of the exhibition ‘Mendel: The Genius of Genetics’ and the inaugural conference in 2002, ‘EMBO Workshop, Genetics after the Genome’. The Mendel Lectures grew from this conference and I am delighted that the series continues to attract outstanding speakers.
As its name “The Road to the DNA” suggests, the first series of lectures was focused on the historical context of genetics. Subsequent series have addressed more topical scientific findings. “A small selection committee chooses which scientists to invite each year,” says Anna Nasmyth, explaining how plans for each new series originate. It's worth noting that each speaker invited is a renowned leader in their respective field.
In Brno, the organization of the Mendel Lectures was a collaborative effort led by Jirina Relichova of Masaryk University, in cooperation with Jan Motlik from the Czech Academy of Sciences and Imma Mautner Markhof from Austria, who played a pivotal role in securing sponsorships. “The lectures have been – since the beginning – very well attended, with an average audience of eighty,” says Professor Relichová, before adding, “All the lecturers expressed the honour they felt at being invited to speak in such an exceptional environment, where Mendel lived and worked, and in which genetics as a science has its origins.”
Mendel Lectures now
The Mendel Lectures have evolved into a prestigious platform renowned for hosting top-tier scientific presentations. Many visiting scientists eagerly anticipate their time in Brno. The majority of these lectures are also live-streamed online to reach a global audience, and some speakers have even been invited for prime-time interviews by the Czech public broadcasting company. In 2012, a special milestone was marked with the Anniversary Mendel Lectures, coinciding with the 190th anniversary of Mendel's birth, and hosted at the Abbey. This event was not only a celebration of science returning to the monastery but also a remarkable moment when Mendel's original manuscript, which had been missing for several decades, made its triumphant return.
Lumír Krejčí of Masaryk University assumed the role of the main organizer in 2007, working alongside Anna Nasmyth until her departure in 2011. In 2015, a scientific board was established to curate the roster of scientists to be invited for upcoming seasons. Additionally, a distinct logo was created, and the Mendel Medal, accompanied by a certificate, was introduced to honor speakers for their outstanding contributions to science. As of 2022, Dalibor Blazek and Kamil Paruch, also from Masaryk University, have taken on the mantle of main organizers, ensuring the continued success of the Mendel Lectures.
Mendel Lectures 2002 – 2022
The Mendel Lectures series was established to highlight the importance of Gregor Johann Mendel’s work on inheritance, one of the greatest discoveries in the history of biology. It was the sophistication and design of his experiments, together with combinatorial mathematical analysis, that allowed Mendel to formalise his findings and later enabled many discoveries in biology. His work provided the revolutionary empirical foundation now appreciated by scientists all around the globe as a pillar of modern genetics indispensable to our society.
The route to acknowledging Mendel’s legacy was not simple, however, as for several decades his findings went unrecognised and unappreciated. As often the prophet is honoured everywhere but in his own country, Mendel’s theories were rejected during the communist era, in favour of other concepts. Ultimately, it required the action of foreign scientists to establish the Mendel Museum and to initiate scientific meetings in the Abbey.
The Mendel Lectures not only revive the legacy of Mendel but also attract world-class researchers to present their scientific work in Brno, in the hope of planting seeds for future ground-breaking discoveries in the place where Mendel, many years ago, performed his key experiments.
The Mendel Lectures 2002 – 2022 book is a celebration of 20 years of Mendel Lectures and is dedicated to everyone, from speakers to audience, who have helped to put Brno back on the international research map and made the Augustinian Abbey a sacred place for discussions on science and education.
Money and finance
In the initial stages, the funding for the Lectures received support from various sources, including Gustav Ammerer, a geneticist from Vienna, through his charitable organization VFG, along with contributions from IMP Vienna, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the British Council, the Regional Authority of South Moravia, the City of Brno, and the Augustinian Abbey in Old Brno. Between 2012 and 2014, the Lectures secured funding through a grant from the Czech Ministry of Education and the European Union, known as Pluricell. Starting in 2015, the Mendel Lectures began receiving co-support from the International Clinical Research Centre of St. Anne's University Hospital in Brno, and from 2016 onwards, they have enjoyed the backing of Masaryk University.