The organism and the conditions required for its life are an inseparable unity. Different living bodies require different environmental conditions for their development. By studying these requirements we come to know the qualitative features of the nature of organisms, the qualitative features of heredity. Heredity is the property of a living body to require definite conditions for its life and development and to respond in a definite way to various conditions.
The son of Denis and Oksana Lysenko, Trofim Lysenko was born into a peasant family in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate (in present-day Poltava Oblast, Ukraine) on 29 September 1898.
Lysenko's success at encouraging farmers to return to working their lands impressed Stalin, who also approved of Lysenko's poor background, as Stalin wanted to appear to stand with the proletariat. By the late 1920s, USSR's Leaders had given their support to Lysenko. This support was a consequence, in part, of policies put in place by the Communist Party to rapidly promote members of the proletariat into leadership positions in agriculture, science and industry. Party officials were looking for promising candidates with backgrounds similar to Lysenko's: born of a peasant family, without formal academic training or affiliations to the academic community.
In 1927, at the age of 29, working at an agricultural experiment station in Azerbaijan, Lysenko embarked on the research that would lead to his 1928 paper on vernalization, which drew wide attention because of its potential practical implications for Soviet agriculture. Severe cold and lack of winter snow had destroyed many early winter-wheat seedlings. By treating wheat seeds with moisture as well as cold, Lysenko induced them to bear a crop when planted in spring. Lysenko coined the term "Jarovization" (яровизация) to describe this chilling process, which he used to make the seeds of winter cereals behave like spring cereals. (Because spring cereals are called Jarovoe in Russian – from jar meaning fire or the god of spring.) However, this method had already been known by farmers since the 1800s, and had recently been discussed in detail by Gustav Gassner in 1918. Lysenko himself translated Jarovization as "vernalization" (from the Latin vernum meaning Spring). Lysenko's claims for increased yields were based on plantings over a few hectares, and he believed that the vernalized transformation could be inherited, that the offspring of a vernalized plant would themselves possess the capabilities of the generation that preceded it—that it too would be able to withstand harsh winters or imperfect weather conditions.
Unable to silence Western critics, Lysenko tried to eliminate all dissent within the Soviet Union. Scientists who refused to renounce genetics found themselves at the mercy of the secret police. The lucky ones simply got dismissed from their posts and were left destitute. Hundreds if not thousands of others were rounded up and dumped into prisons or psychiatric hospitals. Several got sentenced to death as enemies of the state or, fittingly, starved in their jail cells (most notably the Botanist Nikolai Vavilov). Before the 1930s, the Soviet Union had arguably a strong genetics community. Lysenko gutted it, and by some accounts set Russian biology and agronomy back a half-century.
Heredity and Its Variability (1945)
The Science of Biology Today (1948)
Soviet Scientists who refused to renounce genetics were dismissed from their posts and left destitute. Hundreds if not thousands of others were imprisoned. Several were sentenced to death as enemies of the state, including the Botanist Nikolai Vavilov. Scientific dissent from Lysenko's theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1948.
Following Stalin's death in 1953, Lysenko retained his position, with the support of the new leader Nikita Khrushchev. However, mainstream Scientists re-emerged, and found new willingness within Soviet government leadership to tolerate criticism of Lysenko, the first opportunity since the late 1920s. In 1962, three of the most prominent Soviet physicists, Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich, Vitaly Ginzburg, and Pyotr Kapitsa, presented a case against Lysenko, proclaiming his work as pseudoscience. They also denounced Lysenko's application of political power to silence opposition and eliminate his opponents within the scientific community. These denunciations occurred during a period of structural upheaval in Soviet government, during which the major institutions were purged of the strictly ideological and political machinations which had controlled the work of the Soviet Union's scientific community for several decades under Stalin.
The Soviet press was soon filled with anti-Lysenkoite articles and appeals for the restoration of scientific methods to all fields of biology and agricultural science. In 1965, Lysenko was removed from his post as Director of the Institute of Genetics at the Academy of Sciences and restricted to an experimental farm in Moscow's Lenin Hills (the Institute itself was soon dissolved). After Khrushchev's dismissal in 1964, the President of the Academy of Sciences declared that Lysenko's immunity to criticism had officially ended. An expert commission was sent to investigate records kept at Lysenko's experimental farm. His secretive methods and ideas were revealed. A few months later, a devastating critique of Lysenko was made public. Consequently, Lysenko was immediately disgraced in the Soviet Union.
After Lysenko's monopoly on biology and agronomy had ended, it took many years for these sciences to recover in Russia. Lysenko died in Moscow in 1976, and was ultimately interred in the Kuntsevo Cemetery, although the Soviet government refused to announce Lysenko's death for two days after the event and gave his passing only a small note in Izvestia.
Outside the U.S.S.R., Scientists spoke critically: British Biologist S.C Harland lamented that Lysenko was “completely ignorant of the elementary principles of genetics and plant physiology.” (Bertram Wolfe, 2017). Criticism from foreigners did not sit well with Lysenko, who loathed Western “bourgeois” Scientists and denounced them as tools of imperialist oppressors. He especially detested the American-born practice of studying fruit flies, the workhorse of modern genetics. He called such geneticists “fly lovers and people haters.”
Lysenko forced farmers to plant seeds very close together, since according to his “law of the life of species,” plants from the same “class” never compete with one another. An article in The Atlantic suggests that Lysenko played active role in the famines that killed millions of Soviet people, and that Lysenko’s practices prolonged and exacerbated the food shortages , but the arguments for this claim remain unclear. The Soviet Union’s allies suffered under Lysenkoism, too. Communist China adopted his methods in the late 1950s and endured even bigger famines. Peasants were reduced to eating tree bark and bird droppings. At least 30 million died of starvation.