History of Soviet Genetics


[Adapted from Andrei Igamberdiev on Soviet Genetics, 06 Nov 2018: Totalitarianism and Freedom]


Application of Marxist-Leninist Dialectical Materialism system to Science

              Benefits: Soviet system provided education to broad masses for first time

                               Rapid industrialization, improvements in agriculture

              Downside: Cult of Personality take hold, State does not 'wither away'

                      VI Lenin (d 1924) mausoleum based on Ziggurat of Babylon

                      Stalinist architecture in Soviet "Wedding Cake" style

Post-Revolution (1917)

              People go to city to be educated

              Competition with West [note Thomas, Julian, & Aldous Huxley] {British SciFi pessimistic}

                             Brave New World; Chrome Yellow; Doors of Perception

Biology in Soviet Union, 1920s

              Modernism promotes Science

              1924 -1929: First Five-Year Plan of New Economic Policy (NEP)

              History as progress (dialectical materialism): from simpler to complex, also applies to Society

              Marxism respected in West (especially Europe)
              JV Stalin becomes General Secretary (1922): Yezhov Terror, 1936 - 38


Prominent Soviet geneticists


              IA Rappaport opposed Lysenko, spoiled 1948 sessions

                            Chemical mutagenesis; nominated for Nobel in 1960s w/ C Auerbach;

                            Fought Fascism "empirically" in WWII

SS Chetverikov

                            1926: Population genetics as basis of evolutionary theory; arrested, side-lined


              GD  Karpechenko (Kar-PECH-en ko) bred inter-generic hybrid (Raphanobrassica); killed 1941


              NV Timofeev-Ressovsky - Radiation Genetics

                            Worked at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Berlin (pre-war, Nazi period)
                            Arrested 1945, worked in Gulag (cf. Solzhenitsyn's "First Circle")

N Koltsov 

                            Concept of cytoskeleton (1903)

                            1927: proposed "giant hereditary molecule" with
"two mirror strands that would replicate in a semi-conservative fashion using each strand as a template"

                            Advocate of eugenics 1920s

                            Arrested 1920, save by Maxim Gorky; killed by NKVD 1940


NI Vavilov

plant biogeography; most prominent Soviet geneticist

                                           Brother SI Vavilov became President of Soviet Academy post-war

                                                         supervised Cherenkov (Physics Nobel, 1958)

                                           Margaret Newton Canadian phyto-pathologist invited to Soviet Union (three months)

                                           HJ Muller worked in Soviet Union on genetics, 1933-38 (Nobel, 1946)

                            Neolithic revolution in seven Centers of Origin:

    Mesopotamia, India subcontinent, Ethiopia, China, Egypt, S America

                                  cf. E Mayr argues for most variation at center of origin

                         Arrested August 1940; sentenced to death July 1941; died of starvation in Gulag, Jan 1943
                         "Rehabilitated" 1955

Anti-Science Clique

        IV Michurin (Mi-CHUR-in)

              Peasant plant breeder: ideal "type"of Soviet contributor to Science

              Luther Burbank in US has parallel  career

        TD Lysenko (Lye-SYEN-ka) agronomist rather than scientist

              Promoted by II Prezent in ideological terms

freezing "Winter" wheat allows growth as "Spring" (Vernal) wheat

                    phenomenon well-known: Lysenko claimed permanent transformation

              Resurrected Inheritance of acquired characteristics

              Accumulated power in Soviet agriculture, advisor to Stalin

        O Lepeshinskaya

              Suggested life could originate by spontaneous generation

              Weird pseudo-science, protege of Stalin


Climax: All-Union Meeting of August 7th, 1948

             "The Central Committee of the Party examined my report and approved it."
             Genetics outlawed by decree

Aftermath: Dominated Soviet Biology through fall of Khrushchev (1964)

                     Massive crop failures in Soviet Union, China (1959)


NP Dubinin

              Replaced Lysenko as authentic geneticist; monopolized field after Lysenko

              Claimed proletarian background; probably son of White Army officer


Why confined to Biology? Soviet Fission bomb project protected Soviet physicists

              L Beria (Head of NKVD): "Task No. 1", "Bomb first, we'll get them later."



ZA Medvedev (1969). The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko (translated by I. M. Lerner). Columbia.


2020: Note current situation under Putin: state support of science devalued by political developments


© 2022 by Steven M Carr, after Andrei Igamberdiev, 2018