Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Trofim Lysenko

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898 - 1976) was a Soviet biologist.

Lysenko came from a peasant family in the Ukraine. He was a prominent figure in the Soviet Union because of his controversial, unscientific, approach to biological science, beginning with agriculture and leading to a more general theory of heredity that rejected the existence of genes. In particular, Lysenko insisted on the ability of different species to transform one into another. He "proved" this by planting a field of wheat and finding there several plants of rye. The real reason for this was in stray seeds of rye that found their way to the field; however in order to hide the obvious he silenced those who dared to speak against him using his connections with the Secret Police (NKVD).


After World War II, the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin began to distance itself from Western ideas and concepts, including science. Stalin declared genetics and cybernetics to be Anti-Soviet and ideologically unfit; he put Lysenko in charge of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of Soviet Union and made him responsible for ending the propagation of harmful ideas among Soviet scientists. Lysenko served this purpose faithfully, causing the expulsion, imprisonment and death of hundreds of scientists and the demise of genetics (a previously flourishing field) throughout the Soviet Union. Particularly, he bears responsibility for the death of the greatest Soviet biologist, Nikolai Vavilov, at the hands of the NKVD. After Stalin's death in 1953, Lysenko retained his position, enjoying a relative degree of trust from Nikita Khrushchev.

In 1962 three of the most prominent Soviet physicists, Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich, Vitaly Ginzburg and Peter Kapitza, set out the case against Lysenko, his false science and his policy of political extermination of scientific opponents. This happened as a part of a greater trend of combatting the ideological influence that had held such sway in Soviet society and science. Khrushchev then dismissed Lysenko.


See also : Gregor Mendel