Vavilov, Nikolay

Russian Plant Geneticist

Nikolay Vavilov is best known for attempting to apply the science of genetics to Russian agriculture, for his theories of the origin of crop plants, and for being persecuted during the Stalin Regime in the Soviet Union. Vavilov studied genetics in Moscow and in England. Under Lenin, he became the head of the Bureau of Applied Botany in St. Petersburg, building it into one of the premier research institutions in the world. Vavilov traveled widely to collect and observe crop plants and their wild relatives. By analyzing the diversity of plants in different regions, and combining this information with archaeological and other evidence, Vavilov formulated his theory of crop plant origins. He believed that regions in which the domesticated varieties of a crop plant were most diverse were most likely the regions in which that crop had first been cultivated by humans. He postulated there were eight "centers of origin," an idea that led to much further research and the eventual refinement and modification of Vavilov's theory. Through the 1930s, however, under Stalin, genetic science became suspect because of its associations with the West, and Vavilov was attacked by Trofim Lysenko, who had Stalin's trust. In 1940, Vavilov was arrested and imprisoned. He died in jail three years later.

Richard Robinson

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