Vavilov, Nikolai

Vavilov, Nikolai [Вавилов, Николай], b 25 November 1887 in Moscow, d 26 January 1943 in Saratov, RSFSR. Russian geneticist; full member of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, the USSR Academy of Sciences, and the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VASKhNIL) from 1929. He is considered to be the Soviet Union’s most prominent plant breeder and is referred to as the ‘Mendeleev of biology.’ A graduate of the Moscow Agricultural Institute (1911), he taught at Saratov University (1917–21) and directed the All-Union Institute of Plant Cultivation (1924–40). He rose to prominence during the period of collectivization and was the founder and first director of VASKhNIL. In 1935 Trokhym Lysenko’s attack on genetics as a bourgeois, capitalist, and idealist science useless to agriculture led to Vavilov’s demotion to vice-president of VASKhNIL. Vavilov was harassed, and openly broke with Lysenko in 1939. He was arrested in August 1940 while on a collecting expedition in Western Ukraine and was found guilty of espionage and sabotaging Soviet agriculture. His death sentence was commuted, but he died of malnutrition in a Saratov prison. In 1955 he was posthumously ‘rehabilitated,’ and in the 1980s he was portrayed as a hero in Soviet publications.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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