A thousand thanks to the many of you who responded to my request for
a source on the Vavilov/Leningrad siege/seedbank story. I wanted to
report back with a quick summary of the results.
Versions of the story appear in:
/Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit/, Al Gore; Plume,
1993: 281-282. Citation, Fowler and Mooney (below) and "an account
by Steven Witt." In the Biblio, Witt appears as Steven C. Witt,
/BriefBook: Biotechnology and Genetic Diversity/; SF: California
Agricultural Lands Project, 1985.
/Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity/, Cary
Fowler and Pat Mooney; University of AZ, 1990: 220-222. Citation:
authors reporting on their 1985 visit.
Thank you to Grace Gershuny, Greg Bowman, Jim Horne, and Ronald Nigh
for their rememberings--I had both these books at home and could
quickly find the story.
I haven't made it over to the ag library here to follow up on Richard
Olson's lead, P. Raeburn, /The Last Harvest/, U of NB, 1995.
Craig Cramer supplied leads to several on-line versions of this
At the River Cities Reader website:
Similar graph at:
Also a thousand thanks to Hugo van der Werf for his lead to the
current incarnation of the seedbank, whose Web page I found searching
on the name he provided.
Below are some snips from the site.
N.I. VAVILOV ALL-RUSSIAN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF PLANT
The Institute originated and developed from the Bureau of Applied
Botany organised in 1894 under the Ministry of Agriculture and State
Property of Russia. In 1917 the Bureau was transformed into the
Department of Applied Botany and Plant Breeding, which was in 1922
incorporated into the network of the State Institute of Experimental
Agronomy (SIEA). This Department served as a scientific foundation for
establishing in 1924 the All-Union Institute of Applied Botany and New
Crops (AUIAB & NC), but retained its structural autonomy within the
network of SIEA. In 1930 the department of Applied Botany and Plant
Breeding of SIEA and UAIAB & NC was reorganised into the All-Union
Institute of Plant Industry. In 1992 this Institute received its
current name, and since 1967 has been bearing the name of Academician
N.I.Vavilov, a brilliant scientist and the talented director of the
Institute from 1921 till 1940.
Before the Second World War researchers of the Institute participated
in 180 collecting missions. They explored 65 countries and collected a
wide diversity of wheat, cotton, potato, legumes, vegetables and other
crops valuable for breeding purposes or immediate commercialization.
By 1940 about 200 thousand accessions were stored in the VIR's
collection. This rich diversity was thoroughly analyzed at experiment
stations in different eco-geographical areas of the country.
After the World War the work started by Vavilov was continued by the
scientists of VIR who organized many collecting missions to the
centres of origin of cultivated plants and adjacent areas, which
resulted in accumulation of rich diversity of plant germplasm in
Now the Institute stores more than 213 thousand accessions,
representing 2539 species within 304 genera of 155 botanical
families. 169 thousand accessions promising materials for breeding
and donors of most important commercial traits required for breeding
of new cultivars and hybrids in different regions of Russia have been
deposited in the National Seed Storage Facility at the Kuban
This is a list of the VIR departments. If you have any visceral feel
for this stuff, browse the accession categories of this collection.
I swear to Suwanee and back, but the hair on my arms stood up
straight, reading it. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, legumes, maize,
small grains, forage and industrial crops, tubers, vegetables,
melons, fruits, vegetables, ornamental and subtropical crops.... How
much do you think this seedbank would be worth to a struggling
nation like Russia with bidders from the big life sciences
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
In the end, they will lay their freedom at our feet
and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'
--the Grand Inquisitor, Dostoevsky
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