Mendel worked with seven characteristics of pea plants: plant height, pod shape and color, seed shape and color, and flower position and color. Taking seed color as an example, Mendel showed that when a true-breeding yellow pea and a true-breeding green pea were cross-bred their offspring always produced yellow seeds. However, in the next generation, the green peas reappeared at a ratio of 1 green to 3 yellow. To explain this phenomenon, Mendel coined the terms “recessive” and “dominant” in reference to certain traits. (In the preceding example, the green trait, which seems to have vanished in the first filial generation, is recessive and the yellow is dominant.) He published his work in 1866, demonstrating the actions of invisible “factors”—now called genes—in predictably determining the traits of an organism.
The profound significance of Mendel's work was not recognized until the turn of the 20th century (more than three decades later) with the rediscovery of his laws. Erich von Tschermak, Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and William Jasper Spillman independently verified several of Mendel's experimental findings, ushering in the modern age of genetics.