Trofim Lysenko

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Trofim Lysenko
Trofim Lysenko portrait.jpg
Lysenko in 1938
Born 29 September 1898 (1898-09-29)
Karlivka, Poltava Governorate,
Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Died 20 November 1976(1976-11-20) (aged 78)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Citizenship USSR
Nationality Russian
Fields Biology
Institutions Russian Academy of Sciences
Alma mater Kiev Agricultural Institute
Known for Lysenkoism
Rejecting Mendelian inheritance
Influences Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (Russian: Трофи́м Дени́сович Лысе́нко, Ukrainian: Трохим Денисович Лисенко; 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[1][2][3] 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.

Though Lysenko remained at his post in the Institute of Genetics until 1965,[4] his influence on Soviet agricultural practice had declined by the 1950s.

Early rise[edit]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

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".[8]

Lysenko speaking at the Kremlin in 1935. At the back (left to right) are Stanislav Kosior, Anastas Mikoyan, Andrei Andreyev and the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin

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."[9]

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.

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]

Lysenko in particular impressed political officials further with his success in motivating peasants to return to farming.[13] 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.[14] 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.[13]

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.[12] 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.[11]

After Stalin[edit]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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[17][18] 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.[19] As a result, Lysenko was immediately disgraced in the Soviet Union.[20]

Lysenko died in Moscow in 1976, and was interred in the Kuntsevo Cemetery.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sterling, Bruce (June 2004). "Suicide by pseudoscience". Wired (12.06). 
  2. ^ Gordin, Michael D. (2012). "How Lysenkoism became pseudoscience: Dobzhansky to Velikovsky". Journal of the History of Biology 45 (3): 443–68. doi:10.1007/s10739-011-9287-3. PMID 21698424. 
  3. ^ Enstrom, James E. (2007). "Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: Combating Lysenko pseudoscience". Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations 4 (11). doi:10.1186/1742-5573-4-11. PMC 2164936. PMID 17927827. 
  4. ^ Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich.. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 August 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Roll-Hansen, Nils (1985). "A new perspective on Lysenko?". Annals of Science 42 (3): 261–78. doi:10.1080/00033798500200201. PMID 11620694. Retrieved 25 January 2011. First, it was Lysenko's work in plant physiology which started him on his scientific career, not the work in genetics for which he became notorious. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Li, X.; Liu, Y. (2010). "The conversion of spring wheat into winter wheat and vice versa: False claim or Lamarckian inheritance?". Journal of Biosciences 35 (2): 321–5. doi:10.1007/s12038-010-0035-1. 
  9. ^ Joravsky, David (1986). The Lysenko Affair. University Of Chicago Press. 
  10. ^ "Soviet Biology". 
  11. ^ a b Liu, Yongsheng (2004). "Lysenko’s contributions to biology and his tragedies". Biology Forum 97: 483–8. 
  12. ^ a b Krementsov, Nikolai (1997). Stalinist Science. Princeton University Press. 
  13. ^ a b Graham, Loren R. (1972). Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union. Knopf. p. 208. 
  14. ^ Fitzpatrick, Sheila (1994). Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–5. 
  15. ^ "Trofim Lysenko". Famous Scientists. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Norman L., Qing Ni Li, Yuan Jian Li (2003) Biography of Andrei Sakharov, dissent period. The Seevak Website Competition
  17. ^ Cohen, B.M. (1965). "The descent of lysenko". The Journal of Heredity 56 (5): 229–233. 
  18. ^ Cohen, B.M. (1977). "The demise of Lysenko". The Journal of Heredity 68 (1): 57. 
  19. ^ Joravsky, David (1986). The Lysenko Affair. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 184. ISBN 0-226-41032-3. 
  20. ^ "Trofim Denisovich Lysenko Facts". LoveToKnow, Corp. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  21. ^ "Trofim Denisovich Lysenko". Find A Grave. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 

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