Lysenkoism Against Genetics: The Meeting of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences of August 1948, Its Background, Causes, and Aftermath

Genetics. 2019 May;212(1):1-12. doi: 10.1534/genetics.118.301413.


Progress in genetics and evolutionary biology in the young Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was hindered in the 1930s by the agronomist Trofim Lysenko, who believed that acquired traits are inherited, claimed that heredity can be changed by "educating" plants, and denied the existence of genes. Lysenko was supported by Communist Party elites. Lysenko termed his set of ideas and agricultural techniques "Michurinism," after the name of the plant breeder Ivan Michurin, but they are currently known as Lysenkoism. Although Michurinism opposed biological science, Lysenko took up one academic position after another. In 1929, Nikolai Vavilov founded the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences and became its head; it directed the development of sciences underpinning plant and animal breeding in the Soviet Union. Vavilov was dismissed in 1935 and later died in prison, while Lysenko occupied his position. The triumph of Lysenkoism became complete and genetics was fully defeated in August 1948 at a session of the academy headed by Lysenko. The session was personally directed by Joseph Stalin and marked the USSR's commitment to developing a national science, separated from the global scientific community. As a result, substantial losses occurred in Soviet agriculture, genetics, evolutionary theory, and molecular biology, and the transmission of scientific values and traditions between generations was interrupted. This article reviews the ideological, political, economic, social, cultural, personal, moral, and ethical factors that influenced the August 1948 session, and its immediate and later consequences. We also outline current attempts to revise the role of the August session and whitewash Lysenko.

Keywords: genetics in the Soviet Union; history of science.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetics / history*
  • Heredity
  • History, 20th Century
  • Plants / genetics
  • USSR