A natural expert in the field of science, Nikolai Vavilov’s success was evident. With hundreds of research institutes and experiment stations to his name, Nikolai converted the Soviet Union into the international leader of genetics and plant breeding.
Nikolai Vavilov made innumerable contributions to genetics and plant breeding. He collected seeds of wild crops and kept them safe in a seed bank to be able to produce more crops. After Stalin denounced his work, his life changed for the worse.
Nikolai Vavilov’s Early Life and Achievements
Born in 1887, Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov came from a family of former peasants, turning wealthy in their success in the textile industry. Nikolai had six other siblings, three of whom passed early on in their lives. His other siblings were successful as 2 of Nikolai’s sisters got into the field of medicine.
Sergey Ivanovich Vavilov was the most well-known sibling of Nikolai. He was Nikolai’s younger sibling, acclaimed for his contribution in the physical optics and luminescence field. He later received four Stalin Prizes.
As a child, Nikolai became very preoccupied with the field of natural science. In his schooling years, because of his lack of proficiency with Latin, he ignored his desire to pursue a career in medicine. Instead, he became a student of the Moscow Agricultural Institute, studying plant physiology and bacteriology and graduating in 1911.
After his graduation, he continued to study at the Bureau for Applied Botany and the Bureau of Mycology and Phytopathology of the Agricultural Science Committee. From 1913 to 1914, he studied in England, where he met William Bateson, the first to utilize the word genetics.
In 1921, Vladimir Lenin chose Nikolai to lead the Branch of Applied Botany in Petrograd, Russia. Nikolai was then appointed Director of the V.I. Lenin All-Union Institute of Agriculture in Leningrad, supervising agriculture studies nationwide. By the 1930s, Nikolai already set up hundreds of research institutes and experiment stations. His contribution to genetics and plant breeding made the Soviet Union the leader of those fields.
He established the world’s most extensive repository that contained more than 250,000 seed accessions. (Source: Purdue University)
The Tragic Lysenko Affair
Nikolai’s life soon fell into tragedy regardless of the countless contributions he made in science. His downfall began with his conflict with Trofim Lysenko. An international disagreement in plant genetics known as Mendelism became a catalyst for Trofim’s fame.
In 1929 at the All Russian Genetics situated, Trofim utilized the opportunity to disapprove of genetics. He took advantage of his acquired fame from his paper titled Concerning the essence of the winter habitat. With his renowned reputation, he brought his theories forward with his politics.
When Vavilov lost his position as the President of the Lenin Academy in 1935, resistance and opposition among scientists amplified. The following year, the apprehension of geneticists occurred. In 1938, when Lysenko became the President of the Lenin Academy, former presidents were captured and taken into custody.
The arrests soon turned into killings. Vavilov now knew that the murder and apprehension of his colleagues were in the hands of Joseph Stalin.
During one of Vavilov’s expeditions in West Ukraine, he was forced into a car before being arrested in Moscow. He was indicted for being a rightist conspiracist and for being a spy, and although these confessions were forced out of him from torture, he later denied these accusations. Initially sentenced to death, his sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison.
Vavilov, aged 55, died during his imprisonment in 1943. Because of starvation, he became malnourished and sick, leading to cardiovascular failure and dystrophy. (Source: Purdue University)