Karpechenko, Georgii Dmitrievich

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(b. Vel’sk, Vologda (modern Arkhangel’sk) Province, Russia, 3 May 1899; d. in Soviet prison, location unknown, 17 September 1942)

Cytogenetics, botany.

Karpechenko was born into the family of a surveyor, he completed his secondary education at the Vologda gymnasium in 1917 and entered the natural science division of Perm University. In 1918 he transferred to the Petrovskii Agricultural Academy in Moscow (renamed the K. A. Timiriazev Agricultural Academy on 23 December 1923). where he supported himself by working for an agronomist and teaching science in local schools. He received his diploma in 1922 and went into graduate work in the academy’s Department of Selection of Agricultural Plants, headed by Sergei I. Zhegalov, where he studied plant cytology with A.G. Nikolaeva.

Karpechenko’s earliest work (1922–1925) was carried out at the department’s Petrovskoe-Razumovskoe plant breeding station near Moscow, headed by Zhegalov. Following up the hypothesis of the Danish plant cytologist Otto Winge that natural polyploid plant species had originated historically through hybridization. attempts were under way to cross the radish with common cabbage, savoy cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. Karpechenko began his research career by studying the karyology of clovers (Trifolium). beans (Phaseolus), and cruciferous vegetables (Cruciferae). His cytological study of two crucifers, the radish (Raphanus sativus L.), and the common cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.), demonstrated that they had the same number of chromosomes (nine pairs, 2n= 18) and that their chromosome sets appeared morphologically similar (1922). This finding led Karpechenko to hybridization experiments on the two species that brought him to international attention.

In 1922. aided by his teachers Zhegalov, Nikolaeva, and I. N. Sveshnikova, Karpechenko began his study of the hybrids produced from a cross between Raphanus sativus and Brassica oleracea. Both species are biennial. Typically, during the first vegetative season cytological investigations of the hybrids were conducted, and crosses were made in the second year. In 1923, 202 pollinated flowers produced 123 hybrids that were cultivated and studied. Although these F1s each had 18 chromosomes. reduction division was abnormal and the plants appeared sterile. After the stumps were stored for the winter and replanted in the spring of 1924, they began flowering. These F1s were studied cytologically, and the findings were reported in an article published in England (1924).

In 1925 Nikolai Vavilov was made director of the new All-Union Institute of Applied Botony and New Cultures (VIPBiNK [Vsesoiuznyi institut prikladnoi botaniki i novykh kul'tur]) in Leningrad. He invited Karpechenko, then a twenty-six-year-old graduate student at his alma mater, to head the institute’s Laboratoryof plant Genetics located outside the city at Detskoe Selo (renamed Pushkin in 1937). Karpechenko accepted and held the post from 1925 until October 1940. His experimental work was transferred from Moscow to Leningrad in the autumn of 1925, and the second and subsequent generation of hybrids were cultivated and studied with the help of laboratory members S. A. Shchavinskaia, A. N. Lutkov (assistant director of the laboratory from 1925 to 1941), O. N. Sorokina, and E. P. Gogeisel. Karpechenko traveled to Europe(1925–1926) and continued his cytological investigation of the hybrids in the laboratories of Otto Winge (Den Kgl. Veterinaer-og Landbohøjskole’s Arvelighedslaboratorium, Copenhagen), Erwin Baur (Institut für Vererbungsforschung, Berlin-Dahlem), and William Bateson (John Innes Horticultural Institution, London-Merton).

On the plot at Petrovskoe-Razumovskoe, where the plants were not isolated from radishes, 13 tetraploid hybrids produced 209 seeds, from which 91 F2 hybrid plants were grown, of which 73 were investigated cytologically: 61 were triploids (27 chromosomes) that proved sterile, and it was concluded that they had resulted from promiscuous crossing of the tetraploid (n =18) and the radish parental form (n = 9). By contrast, 6 F1tetraploids grown in isolation from radishes on plots at Gribovo yielded 612 seeds, from which 361 F2plants were grown, of which 229 were investigated cytologically: 213 were tetraploid (2n = 36), and subsequently proved fertile and constant. In all, 302 plants were examined cytologically. Although the other polyploid hybrid forms tended to be infertile our unstable (including triploids, and occasional pentaploids and hexaploids), the tetraploid hybrid, which combined the full diploid complement of both the radish and the cabbage, underwent normal meisosis and proved constant, fertile, morphologically distinct, and reproductively isolated from both parental species. Karpechenko concluded that it was an experimentally produced “species nova” and indeed a new genus, since it combined the genetic material from two existing genera. He named the new form Raphanobrassica and reported his findings in 1927 at the Vth International Congress of Genetics (Berlin), and in extensive publications in Russian (1927)and English (1928).

This work brought Karpechenko international recognition. In 1929 he won a Rockefeller Foundation stipend to study in the United States and spent October 1929 through February 1931 based at Berkeley in the laboratory of Ernest Brown Babcock. He also spent time in Pasadena at the laboratory of Thomas Hunt Morgan, where he became close friends with his fellow countryman Theodosius Dobzhansky, who was beginning his cytogenetic comparisons of various Drosophila species. He was invited to give a major address on distant hybridization at the plenary session of the VIth International Congress of Genetics (Ithaca. New York) in 1932. In 1934 he was made vice president of the genetics section of the VIth International Botanical Congress in Amsterdam.

Karpechenko’s work also brought him prominence in the Soviet Union as one of the that country’s leading geneticists. In 1929 he was appointed general secretary of the All-Union Congress of Genetics, Selection, Seed Culture, and Animal Husbandry in Leningrad. In 1930 VIPBiNK was transformed into the All-Union Institute of Plant Industry (VIR[Vsesoiuznyi institut rastenievodstva]) and became the central research institution of the newly formed Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VASKhNIL[Vsesoiuznaia akademiia sel’sko-khoziaistvennykh nauk imeni V.I. Leninal). As director of itslaboratory of plant genetics (1930–1941) Karpechenko became prominent in Soviet agriculture. In 1932 he was made a member of the presidium of the all-union conference on planning research in genetics and selection for the second five-year plan. On 2 November 1934, on Vavilov’s recommendation, the presidium of VASKhNIL awarded Karpechenko a doctorate of biological science without his having to defend a dissertation.

After Iurii A. Filipchenko’s death in 1930, his department of experimental zoology and genetics at Leningrad University was reorganized: A. P. Vladimirskii was appointed to head the new department of animal genetics, and in 1932 Karpechenko was asked to organize the department of plant genetics. He recruited its faculty from the VIR, including Grigorii A. Levitskii (cytology). Marina A. Rozanova (experimental systematics), Leonid I. Govorov (selection, specializing in legumes), and Doncho Kostov (chastnaia genetika, specialized genetics of various plant species). From 1932 through 1940, Karpechenko chaired the department, gave an advanced course on topics in plant genetics, directed the work of graduate students, and headed the Laboratory of Plant Genetics at the Peterhof Biological Institute associated with the university.

In 1935, at the age of thirty-six, Karpechenko was widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on polyploidy and distant hybridization in plants. Vavilov invited him to write two chapters for the three-volume collection The oretical Foundations of Plant Selection (1935), “The Theory of Distant Hybridization” and “Experimental Haploidy and Polyploidy.” The first of these chapters was also published as a separate booklet (1935); drawing on the Soviet and international literature, it constituted his most general theoretical statement on the subject.

Karpechenko divided distant hybridization into two categories. “Congruent” or compatible crosses are those in which “the parent forms, despite great differences in their genes, have’ corresponding’ chromosomes that can combine in hybrids without lowering their viability or fertility” (1935, p. 293). Because they contain many different genes as a result of their evolution in different environmental conditions, such crosses allow the breeder to select for desirable combinations of traits (such as disease or insect resistance, growing properties. and adaptation to particular climates) that may have been lost in particular domesticated breeds and can be reintroduced from wild or local varsities. By contrast.’ incongruent’ or incompatible crosses are those in which the’ parent forms have’ non-corresponding’ chromosomes or a different number, or differences in the cytoplasm, or both, with the result that the hybrids… commonly show disrupted meiosis, partial or total sterility, and not infrequently developmental abnormalities’ (ibid.). Karpechenko focused on incongruent crosses, analyzed the causes of lowered viability and fertility, set forth ways to overcome the difficulties through polyploidy, and evaluated the potentials of such crosses for the breeder.

In the 1930’s Karpechenko extended his researches on Raphanobrassica. Although it did not easily cross with its parental forms, he found that it could be hybridized with Brassica carinata and Brassica chinensis. By crossing a tetrapolid Brassica oleracea (4n equal 36) and Brassica chinensis (2n equal 20). kerpechenko created a fertile he exploit (2n equal 56) in 1937. In the late 1930s he worked on tetraploid barleys and investigated the artificial induction of polyploidy by use of X rays, ultraviolet light, colchicine, and other chemicals. His work led to that of A. N. Lutkov on polyploid sugar beets. of Mikhail I. Khadzhinov on hybrid corn. of Boris L. Astaurov on artificial polyploidy in the silkworm, and to many other studies on plant polyploidy and hybridization throughout the VIR’s system of plant-breeding laboratories and stations.

Beginning in the year 1935, Karpechenko’s positions brought him into increasing conflict with Lysenkoism. As one of the Soviet Union’s leading experts on hybridization. he had to contend with the cult growing up around the popular elderly breeder Ivan V. Michurin, who had claimed spectacular and hereditarily permanent results from grafting, s0-called vegetative hybridization. Following Michurin;s death in 1935, Lysenko and his philosophical partner I. I. Prezent claimed that their own techniques and theories extended Michurin’s legacy into a distinctly Russian Marxist science that they called’ Michurinist biology.’ When the second edition of Morgan’s Scientific Basis of Evolution appeared in 1935, Karpechenko and his wife, Galina Sergeevna, made the authorized translation into Russian: it was published after some delay in late 1936. At the December 1936 meeting of VASKhNIL, where Lysenko and his supporters castigated the assertion by Prezent and Lysenko that somatic cells are involved in the formation of germinal cells and that acquired characteristics can thereby be inherited.

These skirmishes intensified over the next four years. In 1935 Karpechenko had been appointed a member of the organizing committee for the VIIth International Congress of Genetics (scheduled for 1937 in Moscow). But Lysenkoists were added, geneticists were removed, and the congress was twice postponed until it was finally held at Edinburgh in 1939 without any Soviets attending. In February 1937 the Leningrad University newspaper criticized Karpechenko as a Morganist and suggested that his views were subversive. By April. Karpechenko was complaining that the moral atmosphere at the university was making it difficult to teach genetics. Nonetheless, on 28 December 1938 he was promoted to full professor and confirmed as chairman of the department of plant genetics.

At the VIR, however, the situation began to deteriorate. After Lysenko became president of VASKhNIL in 1938, he appointed his supporters to the institute staff, and they began to harass Vavilov and his protégés. In particular, a man without scientific qualifications, Stepan Shundenko, was appointed deputy director of the VIR for science; as later became clear, he was an officer of the secret police (NKVD). At a meeting organized by the journal Pod Znamenem Marksizma in 1939, Karpechenko tried to defend genetics and his own work. That same year, as president of VASKhNIL, Lysenko refused to permit the work of Karpechenko or members of his university department to be displayed at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibit.

In his last letter to Dobzhansky, sent from Paris as his final trip abroad was drawing to a close. Karpechenko had predicted that his return to the Soviet Union would almost certainly mean prison and death. On 6 August 1940 Vavilov was arrested by NKVD agents. In subsequent months, as the case against Vavilov was being assembled, a number of his colleagues were also seized. Karpechenko was arrested in October 1940. According to a recent account, at his very first prison interrogation he “confessed” that his artificial induction of polyploidy in vegetables was anti-Soviet in character, hoping that his judges would see the absurdity of such a claim (Popovsky, p. 148).

Karpechenko was not heard from again. In 1948 he was publicly referred to as one of those who had been eliminated as “enemies of the people.” Although he was posthumously rehabilitated in the mid 1950’s, only after 1965 were his works republished and the exact date of his death made known. The details of the last twenty-three months of his life and the place, cause, and circumstances of his death have yet to be revealed.


I. Original Works. Karpechenko published some fifty works. For the papers on Raphanobrassica that won him international fame in the 1920’s, see’ Chislo khromosom i geneticheskie vzaimootnosheniia u kul'turnykh Cruciferae’ (The number of chromosomes and genetic interrelationships in cultivated cruciferae), in Trudy po prikladnoi botanike i selektsii, 13, no. 2 (1922), 4–14; “Hybrids of ♀ Raphanus sativus L. x♂ Brassica oleracea L.,” in Journal of Genetics, 14 no. 2 (1924), 375–394; “The Production of Polyploid Gametes in Hybrids,” in Her-editas, 9 (1927), 349–368; “Poliploidnye gibridy Raphanus sativus L. x Brassica oleracea L. (K probleme eksperimentaĺnogo vidoobrazovaniia).” in Trudy po prikladnoi botanike, genetike, i selektsii. 17. no. 3 (1927). 305–410, published in English as “Polyploid Hybrids of Raphanus sativus L. Brassica oleracea L. (On the Problem of Experimental Species Formation),” in Zeitschrift für induktive Abstammungsund Vererbungslehre, 48, no. 1 (1928), 1–85.

In the 1930’s Karpechenko published several works of a more general character. notably “Teoriia otdalennoi gibridizatsiii” (The theory of distant hybridization). in Teoreticheskie osnovy selektsii rastenii (The oretical foundations of plant selection). I (Moscow and Leningrad, 1935), 293–354 (also published as a separate pamphlet); and “Eksperimental’naia poliploidiia i gaploidiia” (Experimental polyploidy and haploidy), ibid., 398–434. Karpechenko also published the authorized translation of Thomas Hunt Morgan. The Scientific Basis of Evolution (2nd ed., New York, 1935), as Eksperimental’nye osnovy evoliutsii (The experimental basis of evolution; Moscow and Leningrad, 1936). For his comments at the December 1936 VASKhNIL meeting, see O. M. Targul’ian, ed., Spornye voprosy genetiki i selektsii (Issues of genetics and selection; Moscow and Leningrad, 1937), 281–284.

Two of Karpechenko’s papers are reprinted in Klassiki sovetskoi genetiki 1920–1940 (Classics of Soviet genetics 1920–1940; Leningrad, 1968). 461–538; and fifteen in G. D. Karpechenko, Izbrannye trudy (Selected works), G. S. Karpechenko, O. N. Sorokina, and V. V. Svetozarova, comps., A. N. Lutkov and D. V. Lebedev. eds. (Moscow. 1971), which also includes a brief biography and a list of his published works.

II. Secondary Literature. See V. N. Lebedev’s biography in Vydaiushchiesia sovetskie genetiki (Leading Soviet geneticists; Moscow. 1980), 37–48. Of special interest is E. S. Levina, “Izistorii otechestvennoi genetiki; N. I. Vavilov i G. D. Karpechenko” (From the history of genetics of our country: N. I. Vavilov and G. D. Karpechenko), in Genetika, 23. no. 11 (1987), 2007–3019, which reprints eight unabridged letters between Karpechenko and Vavilov (1925–1938) and provides valuable information on their institutional and personal relationship.

For discussions of Karpechenko’s scientific work, see the studies by Z. M. Rubtsova; “Znachenie rabot G. D. Karpechenko dlia razvitiia evoliutsionnoi tsitogenetiki” (The significance of G. D. Karpechenko’s work for the development of evolutionary cytogenetics). in lz istorii biologii (From the history of biology). IV (Moscow. 1973), 148–159; Razvitie evoliutsionnoi tsitogenetiki rastenii v SSSR (1920–1940-e gody (The development of evolutionary cytogenetics of plants in the U.S.S.R., 1920– 1940’s, Leningrad, 1975); and her chapters in S. R. Mikulinskii and Iu. I. Polianskii. eds., Razvitie evoliutsionnoi teorii v SSSR (1917–1970-e gody) (The development of evolutionary theory in the U.S.S.R., 1917–1970’s; Leningrad, 1983), 92–128.

In English, see the occasional references to Karpechenko in David Joravsky. The Lysenko Affair (Cambridge. Mass. 1970); Zhores A. Medvedev.The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko. I. Michael Lerner, trans. (New York.1969); and Mark Popovsky. The Vavilov Affair (Hamden. Conn., 1984).

Mark B. Adams