Lysenko studying wheat
|Born||29 September 1898
Karlivka, Poltava Governorate,
Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
|Died||20 November 1976
Moscow, Soviet Union
|Institutions||Russian Academy of Sciences|
|Alma mater||Kiev Agricultural Institute|
Rejecting Mendelian inheritance
|Influences||Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin|
Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (Russian: Трофи́м Дени́сович Лысе́нко, Ukrainian: Трохим Денисович Лисенко, Trochym Denysovyč Lysenko; (29 September [O.S. 17 September] 1898 – 20 November 1976) was a Soviet biologist and agronomist of Ukrainian origin. Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics in favor of the hybridization theories of Russian horticulturist Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, and adapted them to a pseudoscientific movement termed Lysenkoism.
His experimental research in improved crop yields earned the support of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, especially following the famine and loss of productivity resulting from forced collectivization in several regions of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. In 1940, he became director of the Institute of Genetics within the USSR's Academy of Sciences, and Lysenko's anti-Mendelian doctrines were further secured in Soviet science and education by the exercise of political influence and power. Scientific dissent from Lysenko's theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in 1948.
Trofim Lysenko, the son of Denis and Oksana Lysenko, was born to a peasant family in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate (in present-day Poltava Oblast, Ukraine) and attended the Kiev Agricultural Institute (now the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine). In 1927, at 29 years of age, working at an agricultural experiment station in Azerbaijan, he embarked on the research that would lead to his 1928 paper on vernalization, which drew wide attention due to its practical consequences for Soviet agriculture. Severe cold and lack of winter snow had destroyed many early winter-wheat seedlings. By treating wheat seeds with moisture as well as cold, Lysenko induced them to bear a crop when planted in spring. Lysenko coined the term "Jarovization" to describe a chilling process he used to make the seeds of winter cereals behave like spring cereals ("Jarovoe"); this term was translated as "vernalization" from the Latin "vernum" for western texts.
Later, however, Lysenko incorrectly claimed that a vernalized state could be inherited – i.e., that the offspring of a vernalized plant would behave as if they themselves had also been vernalized and would not require vernalization in order to flower quickly.
At the 6th International Congress of Genetics (1932), Vavilov, known as one of the strongest critics of Lysenko, said: "The remarkable discovery recently made by T D Lysenko of Odessa opens enormous new possibilities to plant breeders and plant geneticists of mastering individual variation. He found simple physiological methods of shortening the period of growth, of transforming winter varieties into spring ones and late varieties into early ones by inducing processes of fermentation in seeds before sowing them".
Praise for Lysenko's work included such items as credit from the Soviet newspaper Pravda for having discovered a method to fertilize fields without using fertilizers or minerals, and for having proven that a winter crop of peas could be grown in Azerbaijan, "turning the barren fields of the Transcaucasus green in winter, so that cattle will not perish from poor feeding, and the peasant Turk will live through the winter without trembling for tomorrow."
Lysenko argued that there is not only competition, but also mutual assistance among individuals within a species, and that mutual assistance also exists between different species. Experiments demonstrate that individual flowers of the Brassica napus L. are affected by defoliation, but not by intraspecific competition. British zoologist Tim Clutton-Brock believes that mutualism may play a more important role in the evolution of cooperative societies than has been previously thought.
According to Lysenko,
The organism and the conditions required for its life are an inseparable unity. Different living bodies require different environmental conditions for their development. By studying these requirements we come to know the qualitative features of the nature of organisms, the qualitative features of heredity. Heredity is the property of a living body to require definite conditions for its life and development and to respond in a definite way to various conditions.
Lysenko made noteworthy practical achievements in agriculture. For regions with poor summer rainfall, vernalization was used, which chilled seeds of winter varieties, then planting them in the spring. The technique of summer planting was proposed by Lysenko in 1935 to solve the problem of planting potatoes in the hot, dry regions of southern Russia. He created a variety of spring wheat suitable for the region. Lysenko brought about massive increases in the yield of millet, which played an important role in feeding the Red Army soldiers during the Great Patriotic War. He increased yields of kok-sagyz by cluster-planting. And he solved the problem of over-wintering wheat in Siberia by sowing in the autumn stubble. Lysenko's achievements won him the respect and affection of the Russian people.
By the late 1920s, the Soviet political leaders had given their support to Lysenko. This support was a consequence, in part, of policies put in place by Communist Party personnel to rapidly promote members of the proletariat into leadership positions in agriculture, science and industry. Party officials were looking for promising candidates with backgrounds similar to Lysenko's: born of a peasant family, without formal academic training or affiliations to the academic community.
Lysenko in particular impressed political officials further with his success in motivating peasants to return to farming. The Soviet's Collectivist reforms forced the confiscation of agricultural landholdings from peasant farmers and heavily damaged the country's overall food production, and the dispossessed peasant farmers posed new problems for the regime. Many had abandoned the farms altogether; many more waged resistance to collectivization by poor work quality and pilfering. The dislocated and disenchanted peasant farmers were a major political concern to the Soviet leadership. Lysenko emerged during this period inaugurating radically new agricultural methods, and also promising that the new methods provided wider opportunities for year-round work in agriculture. Lysenko proved himself very useful to the Soviet leadership by reengaging peasants to return to work, helping to secure from them a personal stake in the overall success of the Soviet revolutionary experiment.
Lysenko's genetic theories were grounded in Lamarckism. His work was primarily devoted to developing new techniques and practices in agriculture. But he also contributed a new theoretical framework which would become the foundation of all Soviet agriculture: a discipline called agrobiology that is a fusion of plant physiology, cytology, genetics and evolutionary theory. Central to Lysenko's tenets was the concept of the inheritability of acquired characteristics. In 1932 Lysenko was given his own journal, The Bulletin of Vernalization, and it became the main outlet for touting emerging developments of Lysenkoist research. Based on the works of Darwin and Michurin, Lysenko applied graft hybridization to the practice of plant breeding. About 500 scientific papers on graft hybridization published in Russia during 1950–1958 support Lysenko's work, and several groups of scientists in recent years have demonstrated that graft-induced characteristics are stable and reliable.
Following Stalin's death in 1953, Lysenko retained his position, with the support of the new leader Nikita Khrushchev. However, mainstream scientists re-emerged, and found new willingness within Soviet government leadership to tolerate criticism of Lysenko, the first opportunity since the late 1920s. In 1962 three of the most prominent Soviet physicists, Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich, Vitaly Ginzburg, and Pyotr Kapitsa, presented a case against Lysenko, proclaiming his work as false science. They also denounced Lysenko's application of political power to silence opposition and eliminate his opponents within the scientific community. These denunciations occurred during a period of structural upheaval in Soviet government, during which the major institutions were purged of the strictly ideological and political machinations which had controlled the work of the Soviet Union's scientific community for several decades under Stalin.
In 1964, physicist Andrei Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko in the General Assembly of the Academy of Sciences:
He is responsible for the shameful backwardness of Soviet biology and of genetics in particular, for the dissemination of pseudo-scientific views, for adventurism, for the degradation of learning, and for the defamation, firing, arrest, even death, of many genuine scientists.
The Soviet press was soon filled with anti-Lysenkoite articles and appeals for the restoration of scientific methods to all fields of biology and agricultural science. In 1965 Lysenko was removed from his post as director of the Institute of Genetics at the Academy of Sciences and restricted to an experimental farm in Moscow's Lenin Hills (the Institute itself was soon dissolved). After Khrushchev's dismissal in 1964, the president of the Academy of Sciences declared that Lysenko's immunity to criticism had officially ended. An expert commission was sent to investigate records kept at Lysenko's experimental farm. His secretive methods and ideas were revealed. A few months later, a devastating critique of Lysenko was made public. As a result, Lysenko was immediately disgraced in the Soviet Union.
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- Chouard, P. (1960). "Vernalization and its relations to dormancy". Annual Review of Plant Physiology (Annual Reviews) 11: 191–238. doi:10.1146/annurev.pp.11.060160.001203. Retrieved 25 January 2011. "In temperate countries, the seed of winter cereals must be planted before the end of winter in order to fruit within 12 months of sowing."
- Richard Amasino (October 2004). "Vernalization, Competence, and the Epigenetic Memory of Winter". Plant Cell (American Society of Plant Biologists) 16 (10): 2553–2559. doi:10.1105/tpc.104.161070. PMC 520954. PMID 15466409. "Vernalization is the process by which prolonged exposure to cold temperatures promotes flowering."
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- Joravsky, David (1986). The Lysenko Affair. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 184. ISBN 0-226-41032-3.
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- Graham, Loren, What Have We Learned About Science and Technology from the Russian Experience?, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998).
- Joravsky, David, The Lysenko Affair, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
- Lecourt, Dominique, Proletarian Science ? : The Case of Lysenko, (London: NLB; Atlantic Highlands, N.J. : Humanities Press, 1977). (A Marxist, though anti-Stalinist, history of Lysenkoism)
- Lysenko, Trofim, The Science of Biology Today, (New York: International Publishers, 1948). Text of an address "evoked by the international discussion of the subject of inheritance of acquired characteristics," according to an introductory note. Delivered before a session of a meeting of the V.I. Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences on 31 July 1948, when Lysenko, its president, was at the apex of his power. [For an online version of the text see the Lysenko "Report" provided in the External Links section, below.]
- Medvedev, Zhores, The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969)
- Soyfer, Valery N., Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
- Gardner, Martin: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957) (Revised and expanded edition of the work originally published in 1952 under the title In the Name of Science). Dover Publications, New York. See Chapter 12 (Lysenkoism).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Trofim Lysenko.|
- Biography at NNDB
- Lysenkoism in The Sceptic's Dictionary
- Trofim Denisovich Lysenko by Hugo S. Cunningham
- Ronald Fisher (1948). What Sort of Man is Lysenko? Listener, 40: 874–875 — contemporary commentary by a British evolutionary biologist (pdf format)
- Letter from Lysenko's parents to Stalin, Pravda, 3 January 1936.
- Lecourt, Dominique, Proletarian Science? The Case of Lysenko (1977), Atlantic Highlands, Humanities Press, London, this digital edition first published 2003 (A Marxist, though anti-Stalinist, history of Lysenkoism)
- BBC program (In Our Time) on Lysenko