Add to favorite
Subscribe to our Newsletters Subscribe to our Newsletters Get Daily Updates RSS

Nikolay Vavilov - Plants, Genes and Betrayal
December 4, 2007 17:21

Nikolay Vavilov

Vavilov Nikolay Ivanovich, Russian botanist, plant-breeder, geneticist, geographer and science organizer, is born in Moscow on November 13, 1887. His family boasts another famous Russian scientist, his younger brother Sergey Ivanovich Vavilov, a physicist. Nikolay Ivanovich gets his education in Moscow School of Commerce (till 1906) and in Moscow Institute of Agriculture (till 1910), where gets employed at crop farming department under guidance of Dmitry Pryanishnikov with prospects of professorship. Nikolay Vavilov visits Saint Petersburg for work on probation in Bureau of Applied Botany and laboratories of mycology and phytopathology. IN 1913 and 1914 young scientist works in Institute of Gardening, where his teacher is William Bateson, a founder of genetics, and then moves to France to a large seed-growing farm, and after that he goes to Germany.

After the First World War begins, Vavilov hardly manages to get out of Germany to return to Russia. At that time Nikolay Ivanovich expands his geographic talents – he organizes expeditions to Iran and the Pamirs in 1916. Upon his return to Moscow, the biologist works with field materials, performs experiments with early-season Pamirean wheat and studies plant immunity on trial plots of Institute of Agriculture. Between 1917 and 1921 Vavilov reads lectures on Saratov Higher Courses of Agriculture, which gain institute status in 1918, and the same year Nikolay Ivanovich becomes a professor and heads department of genetics, selection and crop farming. Nikolay Ivanovich engages his students in selection experiments on local plots. In June 1920 Vavilov makes a report on homologous series at III All-Russian congress of selectionists in Saratov. Following year makes Nikolay Vavilov a head of Petrograd’s (Saint Petersburg’s name after the revolution of 1917) Office of Applied Botany and Selection. The same year the scientist travel to the United States of America, where he presents a report at International Agricultural Congress, visits Washington Bureau of Plant Growing and Columbian laboratory of T. Morgan. Nikolay Vavilov helps to organize a Washington branch of his Office of Applied Botany and Selection.

In 1922 Nikolay Ivanovich is appointed a director of State Institute of Experimental Agronomy, which unites various departments of Agricultural Academic Committee. In 1924 the biologist heads All-Union Institute of Applied Botany and New Cultures, and six years later he switches to a successive institution – All-Union Institute of Plant Growing with vast network of branches and experimental stations. In 1927 Vavilov participates in V International Congress of geneticists in Berlin. Later Nikolay Ivanovich becomes the president of All-Union Academy of Agricultural Science named after Lenin, turning to vice-president in 1935-1940.

In his Institute of Plant Growing Nikolay Ivanovich opens a genetics department, and in 1930 heads the Laboratory of Genetics, which becomes Institute of Genetics three years later and moves to Moscow in 1934. Nikolay Ivanovich becomes a corresponding member of Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1923, and academician status is conferred to him in 1929. The scientist heads All-Union Geographic Society in 1931-1940, and in 1942 is elected a foreign member of London Royal Society.


Nikolay Vavilov is a founder of doctrine of plant immunity to infectious diseases, extending Mechnikov’s general theory of immunity. In 1920 the scientist states the law of homologous series in genetic variation, according to which “species and genera, genetically related to each other, possess identical series of genetic variation with regularity, allowing prediction of identical forms for other species and genera with known forms for one species”. The closer genetic relatives are genera and linneons, the fuller is their variation identity. Vavilov points out necessity of genetic analysis for those characteristics, which show parallel variation for different species and genera, and in 1935, when he gets enough facts, the scientist concludes that closely related species and genera possess many common genes together with some specific ones. Modern methods of molecular biology and genetics – comparing genetic maps of various organisms and analyzing gene homology on the base of amino acid sequence of gene products or nucleotide sequence of genes – showed striking genetic similarity within large systematic groups and wide homology of individual genes during the whole process of organism evolution. Up-to-date results prove and extend rules, formulated by Nikolay Vavilov.

Between 1920 and 1930 Vavilov organizes and takes part in numerous expeditions, aimed at collecting plant samples, to Afghanistan, Japan, China, Central and South America, Northern Africa, the Middle East and etc. Said expeditions result in a vast collection of plant samples, about 200 thousand items. This enormous work serves Vavilov’s idea of necessary “census” of all cultivated plants for keeping them alive. The scientist starts so-called “geographic crops”, when about 200 cultivated plants are planted in various climatic and soil conditions. In 1926 the scientist creates a theory of origin and diversity centres of cultivated plants, located in five main spots, Later this concept is slightly modified, and modern theory has seven centres instead of original five.

In the mid-thirties Vavilov becomes main and most authoritative opponent of Lysenko and other agrobiologists, who promised quick rehabilitation of agriculture via plant “training”. However, Nikolay Ivanovich is tolerant to them as to supporters of another existing point of view. Soviet government bans Moscow International Genetical Congress of 1937 and forbids any Soviet geneticist from visiting VII International Congress in London and Edinburgh (1939), even Vavilov, who is appointed a president of the Congress.


During next expedition to the new part of the Soviet Union, Western Ukraine, Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov is arrested and accused of belonging to an anti-Soviet organization, sabotage and espionage. The scientist and several other eminent persons are sentenced to be shot. Petition or pardon, signed by Vavilov and other arrested scientists, is rejected and the sentence is approved by Stalin’s personal signature. All convicts, except Vavilov, are executed on July 28, 1941. As for Nikolay Ivanovich, his execution is replaced with 20 years of imprisonment due to active intervention of Dmitry Pryanishnikov, who begs Beria to be clement. Cell of condemned persons, where Vavilov is placed, is located under the ground and has no windows. Due to awful conditions the scientist gets the scurvy, and later suffers from dystrophy. In 1942, Vavilov’s wife arrives to Saratov and lives 2-3 km away from the pace, where her husband is taken into custody, but poor woman is absolutely sure that Nikolay Ivanovich is imprisoned in Moscow.

After Vavilov’s arrest Lysenko takes the post of director in the Institute of Genetics and heads pursuit of “reactionary formal genetics”, ending in 1941 and resulting in arrests and physical destruction of Vavilov’s assistants and friends. Sick Vavilov, waiting every minute for his prisoners to come and kill him, reads lectures in genetics to his cellmates and writes a book “History of world agriculture”, which is never published.

Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov dies in Saratov prison in January 26, 1943.


Kizilova Anna

Tags: Russian scientists Russian science    

Next Previous

You might also find interesting:

Nikolai Zinin - Aniline for the World Kliment Timiryazev - Light Is Life Valentina Tereshkova - First Woman in Space Pavel Yablochkov - Let it be Light! Sergey Korolev - Universe Beating in his Heart

Comment on our site

RSS   twitter      submit

skating rinks  Classical Music  Russian science  Cataclysms  Russian Metro  The Romanov Family  Moscow news  Archeology  Russian Cinema  Svetloyar  Novovoronezh  Spencer Vladimir  Russian economy  Russian business  Kuvshinovo   Andrei Plakhov  Exhibitions in Moscow  English Yard  Red Square  Gregorian  Russian Geographical Society  calendar  snowboarding  Moscow  Russian finance  Russian actors  nuclear safety  accident  Science  Murmansk  Russian Poetry  FIFA World Cup   Architecture Museum  Svetlogorsk  Chelyabinsk meteorite  Symphonic Nights  Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia  Moscow airports  Russian tourism  Fairs in Moscow  Sochi Olympics 2014  St. Petersburg  Ballet Festival  Siberia  Russian scientists  Primorsky Territory  Sberbank  Russian directors  Moscow planetarium  Russian children 

Travel Blogs
Top Traveling Sites