As a result of a printing error in some editions of yesterday's paper, a line was dropped from the lead paragraph of a story on the new Soviet recognition of the theories of the late biologist Trofim D. Lysenko. The paragraph in question should have read: MIORNOVKA. U.S.S.R. - Trofim D. Lysenko, the Soviet biologist who enjoyed perhaps the greatest political power of any scientist in this century until his theories were discredited, is now again being officially recognized for his work.
Trofim D. Lysenko, the Soviet biologist who enjoyed perhaps the greatest political power of any scientist in this century until his theories were discredited, is now again being officially recognized for his work.
One year after his death, Lysenko's theories are invoked here by scientists at a well-respected institute to explain some of their success in creating new, higher-yielding varicties of grain.
This is a stunning development. Western plant scientists had long found unacceptable Lysenko's claim that he could create a tougher variety of spring wheat by exposing it to subfreezing temperatures in his laboratory experiments.
His view of rapid inheritance of environmental factors was supported by Stalin, whose regime was similarly trying to create a "new Soviet man" through education and indoctrination. This, in turn, made Lysenko the virtual ruler of the Soviet Union's scientific establishment, a role he exercised for almost three decades until his theory was discredited following Stalin's death.
Now, the genetics director of the Mironovka wheat research institue declares that Lysenko's methods are responsible for at least half the promising new grain varieties being studied at the facility.
Vitali Shebitchenko displayed electron microscope photographs purporting to show beneficial genetic wheat seed mutations caused by subjecting fragile spring wheat to winter conditions in order to make it produce hardier offspring.
Shebitchenko said the institute's scientists are now drawing up a theoretical model that will enable them to predict exactly what strains of wheat will be produced by different environmental extremes. This model will be shown to international plant geneilcists at future world scientific congresses to prove the usefulness of Lysenko methods, he said.
So far, however, no Western scientist has yet seen the model nor have the institute's findings been presented at any scholarly colloquiem.
The institute, which carries the full name of Mironovka Scientific Investigative Institute of Selection and Seed Cultivation of Wheat, has a proud tradition. Begun in 1911 as a crop testing station with 20 horses and scarcely more humans, the facility now numbers 14 laboratories, 115 scientific workers and speeds across 5,000 acres of flat, fertile Ukrainian farmland 62 miles south of Kiev.
Grains improved here, principally "Mironovskaya 80S and 264" and "Friendship 1 and 2," are used in many countries of the world to increase crop productivity. Institute officials cite formidable figures to show yield improvements. They say they have obtained up to 100 hundred weight per acre yield under lab conditions for some strains of wheat. The average yield countrywide is about one-tenth that.
According to Western specialists, the Soviet Union in recent years has spent massive amounts of money on the development of new strains of grains' to help increase farm productivity in the face of chronic shortages.
One Western expert estimated that the Soviets are outspending the U.S. agricultural industry about three dollars to one for crop research. The Mironevka institute is one of dozens of such research facilities in the country.
Nevertheless, Western correspondents who visited the facility recently were startled by the unexpected emergence of the name of Lysenko, the Ukrainian agronomist who brought such turmoil and political strife to Soviet biology.
Shebitchenko's claim that carefully timed bouts of subfreezing conditions had changed high-protein spring wheat into a new winter variety is precisely the same assertion that catapulted Lysenko to immense power 40 years ago in the Soviet Union.
Lysenko soon became the Soviet Union's top biologist. Those who opposed him and his theories, few of which were ever proven in Western laboratories, were frequently painted as enemies of the state. Lysenkoists became heads of major research institutes, elbowing out classic geneticists who were publicly villified.
Classic genetics, based on the findings of the 19th century monk, Gregor Mendel, holds that random mutation occurs continuously within species and that the environment slowly selects survival traits over the course of many generations. Mendelian theories of genetic transfer of hereditary characteristics are ignored by Lysenkoists.Lysenko denied the existence of genes or the role of chromosomes in transferring hereditary information from generation to generation.
During the Lysenko era, textbooks were rewritten to exclude classic Darwinist-Mendelian theories and some of the Soviet Union's internationally acclaimed biologists and botanists were tried, convicted and imprisoned for crimes against the state.
When Stalin died in 1953, Lysenko went into a brief eclipse. He re-emerged under Nikita Khrush chev and was finally deposed after Khrushchev was removed from office in 1964, Lysenko died last year at the age of 78.
To Western observers, the Lysenko era was a melancholy tale of politicol medding in pure science that bore unpleasant results for the Soviet Union. When western scientists were unlocking the secrets of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the so-called "double helix" gene substance that is the basis of heredity, Soviet scientists were plagued with Lysenko controversies.
The "green revolution" of strikingly higher grain yields in the 1960s was essentially the work of Western seneticists and plant scientists.
One Western plant geneticist who was visiting here recalled recently, "We used to talk with Soviets in those days and would wonder, "Is this man a charlatan or does he really believe this stuff?"