Mendel’s pea crosses: varieties, traits and statistics

Noel Ellis, Julie Margareth Hofer, Martin Swain, Peter van Dijk

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A controversy arose over Mendel's pea crossing experiments after the statistician R.A. Fisher proposed how these may have been performed and criticised Mendel's interpretation of his data. Here we re-examine Mendel's experiments and investigate Fisher's statistical criticisms of bias. We describe pea varieties available in Mendel's time and show that these could readily provide all the material Mendel needed for his experiments; the characters he chose to follow were clearly described in catalogues at the time. The combination of character states available in these varieties, together with Eichling's report of crosses Mendel performed, suggest that two of his F3 progeny test experiments may have involved the same F2 population, and therefore that these data should not be treated as independent variables in statistical analysis of Mendel's data. A comprehensive re-examination of Mendel's segregation ratios does not support previous suggestions that they differ remarkably from expectation. The χ 2 values for his segregation ratios sum to a value close to the expectation and there is no deficiency of extreme segregation ratios. Overall the χ values for Mendel's segregation ratios deviate slightly from the standard normal distribution; this is probably because of the variance associated with phenotypic rather than genotypic ratios and because Mendel excluded some data sets with small numbers of progeny, where he noted the ratios "deviate not insignificantly" from expectation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2019


  • Gregor Mendel
  • Pea varieties
  • RA Fisher
  • Statistical controversy
  • Genetic Variation
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable
  • Peas/genetics
  • Plant Breeding
  • Genotype
  • Models, Genetic
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Pisum sativum/genetics


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