Illustration of Crop diversity

1923 Crop diversity

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov ecology Illustration of Crop diversity

Crop diversity

Nikolai Vavilov identified eight centers of the greatest diversity of crop species which he thought were their centers of origin. He organized expeditions that collected seeds from all around the world. He established a seed bank in Leningrad for the world’s largest collection of seeds. He set up 115 experimental stations across the Soviet Union to grow crops from these seeds. He was proponent of Mendel’s laws of inheritance, but the head of Soviet agriculture, Trofim Leysenko, was a Lamarckian, who claimed that an acquired characteristic in a variety of wheat would be inherited, so he had Vavilov denounced and arrested to die in Stalin’s prison.


Vavilov knew we need to preserve the genetic diversity of food crops. He was a victim of an effort to suppress dissent.


Among the seeds protected in the Vavilov seed bank is a yellow potato that looks like you. Its color doesn’t matter, only its inner soul—its soul that survives ridicule, that thrives in cold summers and salty soil, and that can grow when thrown into a ditch beside the road.

During the twenty-eight-month siege of Leningrad, scientists at the Vavilov Institute boxed up and hid a cross-section of the collected seeds and refused to eat them, although nine of them died of starvation.

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