Trofim Lysenko has been one of the most controversial experimentalists of all times. He has reigned over the Soviet biology for decades and established his theories to improve agricultural productivity. Trofim was a follower of horticulture exponent Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, and gained much recognition for his denouncement of the Mendelian Genetics and formulating ‘Lysenkoism-Michurinism’. His research on plant breeding proved beneficial to Soviet agricultural which had suffered much loss on account of extreme cold weather conditions as well as scarcity of winter snow. Lysenko devised a method to make winter-wheat seeds productive in spring. This method was initially called Jarovization. This method was later on termed as Vernalization, and the fact that this process was not new and had been used by peasants since decades earned this famous scientist a great deal of criticism. However, his scientific research helped him gain the support of politician Joseph Stalin and this paved the way for his success in the field of biology. He had influenced Stalin by his experiments which certainly helped him climb the ladder of success and rule the Soviet genetics for a long period of time. Eventually, he lost his hold as other scientists emerged with new theories and rendered his theories untrue. Read on to know more about the life and works of this renowned agronomist
Childhood & Early Life
Born to Denis Lysenko and Oksana Lysenko in the year 1898 in Poltava Oblast, Ukraine (formerly known as Karlivka, Poltava Governorate). His parents belonged to the peasant class.
He attended the ‘Poltava Primary School for Horticulture and Gardening’ and later joined the ‘Uman School for Horticulture’ from which he completed his graduation in 1921. Soon after, he became involved with experimental work at the stations situated in Belaya Tserkov and Kiev Oblast.
He then attended the ‘National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine’ (earlier known as ‘Kiev Agricultural Institute’) during the period 1921-25. While in this university, he brought out two articles on sugar beet grafting and tomato breeding.
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After completing his studies, he worked at the experimental station at Azerbaijan and carried on his agricultural research which can be regarded as his first step towards his research paper on vernalization, which was put forward in 1928.
The method of vernalization which he had described in his paper was highly acclaimed as it would help the farming community of the Soviet. The agriculture of the country in winter had suffered a lot as there was scarcity of snow resulting in the destruction of seeds of winter-wheat.
He then moved on to the ‘Gyandzha Experimental Station’ where he remained till 1929.
From 1929-34, he was the Senior Specialist at the Physiology department of ‘Ukrainian All-Union Institute of Selection and Genetics’, Odessa.
During the period 1935-38, he worked at the ‘All-Union Institute of Selection and Genetics’ as the science director and then he was appointed as the director of the institution.
While at the institution, he advocated the agricultural theories of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, and rejected the Mendelian genetics formulated by Gregor Johann Mendel. In 1935, Michurin’s death made this revolutionary experimentalist lead the scientific movement which he named as ‘Lysenkoism’. Through this movement he gained political control over the agriculture and genetics of Soviet Union.
In 1940, he joined the ‘Academy of Sciences’ of the U.S.S.R. as the Director of the ‘Institute of Genetics’ and he remained in office for the next twenty five years.
During the same time, he also became the president of the ‘V.I. Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences’.
In 1953, Stalin, the leader of Soviet Union and a supporter of Lysenko died and this gradually brought the downfall of Trofim Lysenko. Other scientists came up with better solutions to agricultural problems of the Soviet and denounced Lysenko’s theories.
In 1965, this scientist was removed from his position at the ‘Institute of Genetics’ and this ended his career as an experimental scientist. However, his theories were held valid and used in Chin even after his theories were rejected by scientists like Vitaly Ginzburg, Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich and Pyotr Kapitsa.
He has defied the ‘Mendelian Inheritance’ phenomenon and supported Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin’s theory on genetics which he later termed as ‘Lysenkoism’ or ‘Lysenko-Michurinism’.
This famous scientist is also renowned for ‘Hybridization’ wherein two plant breeds could be made to amalgamated to reproduce a new breed which is better than the parent species.
Personal Life & Legacy
His scientific theories have been subject to much criticism from other scientists and they even termed his research as incorrect. After the death of Stalin, who was one of the biggest support Lysenko had relied on, this horticulturist lost his grip over the Soviet biology.
He was also accused of taking undue advantage of his power as the director of ‘Institute of Genetics’ of the ‘Academy of Sciences’. He, apparently, restrained other scientists from developing and manifesting their research work in order to remain in power.
These allegations made the Soviet press investigate his work and in 1965; Lysenko was finally overthrown from his office of the Director of the ‘Institute of Genetics’.
The eminent geneticist breathed his last on 20th November, 1976, in Moscow, Soviet Union. His resting place is in the ‘Kuntsevo Cemetery’, Moscow.
During his dictatorship on plant genetics, he said that wheat seeds would produce rye seeds if they get suitable environment