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Vavilovian Mimicry: Nikolai Vavilov and His Little-Known Impact on Weed Science

  • J. Scott McElroy (a1)

Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov was an early 20th century Russian plant scientist who was killed by Joseph Stalin in 1943 for his adherence to basic genetic principles. Vavilov is well known within plant breeding and plant evolutionary biology circles, yet the science of Vavilov is just as important to the field of weed science. Specifically, Vavilov proposed that certain weeds adapted to weed control practices to survive in prehistorical agrarian societies. Most would refer to this adaption as crop mimicry, but the term “Vavilovian mimicry” is more apt. Vavilovian mimicry requires three factors: a model—the crop or desirable plant; a mimic—the weed; and an operator—the discriminating agent, possibly human, animal, or machine. In a modern context, it is proposed that weed adaptation to herbicide applications be included as a form of Vavilovian mimicry, with the acknowledgement that the operator is the herbicide. In this context, Vavilovian mimicry is the adaption of the weed mimic to be perceived by the operator as visually, physically, or biochemically indistinguishable from the crop model. This review will cover the history and legacy of Vavilov in a condensed version in the hope that weed scientists will hold this individual in high regard in our future endeavors and begin to acknowledge Vavilov as one of the first scientists to propose that weeds can mimic the attributes of crops.

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Weed Science
  • ISSN: 0043-1745
  • EISSN: 1550-2759
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