Dispute over manuscript by father of genetics Mendel: report

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A row has erupted between the descendants of the father of genetics Gregor Mendel and an Austrian monastery over one of Mendel's manuscripts, an Austrian newspaper reported Wednesday.

The family has accused the Augustinian Order in Vienna of pressuring a great-great-grand nephew of Mendel, Father Clemens, who is himself an Augustinian monk, to hand them the manuscript, the daily Die Presse reported in its online edition.

The Vienna monastery has denied the accusations.

"There was no pressure," its prior, Father Dominic, told the newspaper.

He added however that the manuscript rightfully belonged to the Augustinians, noting that "Mendel was an Augustinian monk and he did his research as an Augustinian monk".

Father Clemens, aged 77, had safeguarded the manuscript, which is almost 150 years old, and now it was "time to give it back", Father Dominic added.

Regarded as the father of genetics, Mendel uncovered the laws of heredity after studying plants in the garden of the Augustinian monastery in Brno, now the Czech Republic, in the 1850s and 1860s.

His work is seen as nearly as important as Charles Darwin's study on the origins of the species.

The manuscript at the source of the dispute, Mendel's "Experiments on Plant Hybridisation", of which 40 copies were made, was actually thrown away by members of his monastery in 1911 but was rescued by a teacher.

After disappearing after World War II, it resurfaced in 1988 in Prague and was handed to Father Clemens, who agreed with family members to lock it up in a bank safe in Stuttgart, Germany, where he lives.

The manuscript was due to change hands on May 11, but the family alerted the German authorities, who are now investigating whether it could be classified as a cultural asset, which would prevent its exportation.

Until the matter has been cleared, the manuscript will stay with a lawyer in Stuttgart, according to Die Presse newspaper.

© 2010 AFP

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