Vavilov, Nikolai Ivanovich


Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov (1887–1943) was a Russian botanist, plant geographer, breeder and geneticist. A charismatic scientific leader of the rapid expansion of Soviet agricultural science in the 1920s and early 1930s, his most important scientific contribution was the theory of centres of origin of cultivated plants, which guided the development of the ‘World collection of cultivated plant’. This was the world's first large scale gene bank and a major benchmark in the history of modern plant breeding and conservation of genetic heritage. Vavilov was arrested in 1940 on characteristic Stalinist charges of counter‐revolutionary activities, wrecking of Soviet economy and espionage for Western powers. The real reason was his defence of classical genetics against the politically supported pseudoscientific theories of ‘agrobiology’ promoted by T.D. Lysenko and his followers. Vavilov had a central role in the international ideological and political controversies over science in the middle decades of the twentieth century. First, in the turbulent 1930s, as an active leader in Soviet science; and then, after his arrest in 1940 and death in 1943, as a symbol of scientific freedom and autonomy on the intellectual front of the Cold War.

Keywords: Lysenkoism; vernalisation; science policy; plant breeding; gene banks


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Further Reading

Adams M (1978) Vavilov, Nikolay Ivanovich. Dictionary of Scientific Biographies, XV(suppl. I): 505–513.

Joravsky D (1965) The Vavilov brothers. Slavic Review 24: 381–394.

Joravsky D (1970) The Lysenko Affair. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Krementsov N (1997) Stalinist Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Popovsky M (1984) The Vavilov Affair. Hambden: Archon Book.

Roll‐Hansen N (2005) The Lysenko Effect. Amherst: Humanity Books.

Soyfer VN (1994) Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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Roll‐Hansen, Nils(Apr 2014) Vavilov, Nikolai Ivanovich. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025064]