|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. 423 March 16, email@example.com||Victoria, B.C.|
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Armen Leonovich Takhtajan, one of the greatest botanists of our time, passed away on November 13, 2009, at the age of 99. He was born June 10, 1910, in Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh, in the Southern Caucasus. He had just published his revised classification, Flowering Plants (Springer, 2009), in which he synthesized his own vast knowledge of plant evolution acquired over 60 years of study and much of the phylogenetic information that had been published in recent years by others. He graduated from the Institute of Subtropical Cultivation in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1932, received his Ph.D. in Leningrad in 1938, and his Dr. Sci. at Yerevan State University in 1943. He was on staff at various institutions in Yerevan until 1949 when he joined the faculty at Leningrad State University (1949 to 1960), after which he joined the staff of the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was director from 1976 to 1986. Despite great personal and professional risk, he was a strong opponent of the theories of T. D. Lysenko, who had the support of Stalin and Krushchev in banning all teaching of genetics from the 1930s to the 1960s. He was one of the few scientists who travelled internationally during Soviet times and was an important conduit in bringing the ideas of current research in the west to his colleagues in Russia. With his wife Alice, he spent many happy and productive months as a guest researcher at Missouri Botanical Garden, the New York Botanical Garden (with his great friend Arthur Cronquist), and the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai working on his publications. They were an inspiration and a delight to the staff and students at those institutions.
He was an Academician of the Armenian Academy of Sciences and of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, as well as of many other countries. He wrote 20 books and more than 300 scientific papers, many of which were ground-breaking, from his 1943 paper Correlations of Ontogenesis and Phylogenesis in Higher Plants, in which he unveiled his theories on macroevolution as a result of changes in developmental timing, through to his books Floristic Regions of the World and Diversity and Classification of Flowering Plants.
In his foreword to Flowering Plants, Peter Raven wrote: "Professor Armen Takhtajan, a giant among botanists, has spent a lifetime in the service of his science and of humanity. As a thoroughgoing internationalist, he promoted close relationships between botanists and people of all nations through the most difficult times imaginable, and succeeded with his strong and persistent personal warmth. He also has stood for excellent modern science throughout this life and taught hundreds of students to appreciate the highest values of civilization whatever their particular pursuits or views, or the problems they encountered."
Armen Takhtajan was also an artist and a philosopher. Especially after he retired, he enjoyed staying in his country house and painting. He published (in Russian) a book on systems in general, including organismal systems and political systems.
Professor Takhtajan was predeceased by Alice, his wife of 58 years, in 2005; he is survived by his sons Leon and Souren, daughter Lena and many grandchildren. Funeral rites were held at the Komarov Botanical Institute November 19, 2009.
[Editorial note: Following Prof. Takhtajan's study visit to the New York Botanical Garden, The New York Times published an excellent article. I asked the NY Times for permission to post it in BEN, but the fee for doing that would annihilate the entire BEN operating budget. I recommend that you access this article directly from the New York Times archives: William K. Stevens. Scientist at Work: Armen Takhtajan; Botanist Plans Survey of World's Flowers // The New York Times. - April 6, 1993 http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/06/science/scientist-at-work-armen-takhtajan-botanist-plans-survey-of-world-s-flowers.html?pagewanted=1 ]
Kingsbury, Noel. 2009. Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding. University Of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 512 p. ISBN-13: 978-0226437040 [hard cover] Price: US$ 35.00
Noel Kingsbury, the author of Hybrid, is a prolific British writer on landscape and kitchen gardening. For him this has become an ever more serious endeavour, and hence the current book. Along with his colleague, Tim Richardson, he has chaired a monthly series of lectures, the Vista Lectures, for London's Museum of Garden History, some of which are available via Mr. Kingsbury's Website in podcast form or via his host, the Gardens Illustrated Magazine. These forums became ever more social and political in content, leading Mr. Kingsbury to undertake this current project. It has a wide scope and he is extraordinarily successful in covering it. Rarely do book jacket authors truly capture the essence of the book they describe, but here the anonymous editor aptly remarks, "Starting his story at the birth of agriculture, Kingsbury traces the history of human attempts to make plants more reliable, productive, and nutritious-a story that owes as much to accident and error as to innovation and experiment. Drawing on historical and scientific accounts, as well as a rich trove of anecdotes, Kingsbury shows how scientists, amateur breeders, and countless anonymous farmers and gardeners slowly caused the evolutionary pressures of nature to be supplanted by those of human needs... . He reminds us that contemporary controversies over the Green Revolution and genetically modified crops are not new; plant breeding has always had a political dimension."
The author begins with pre-agricultural history and then the historical origins of agriculture. He is particularly strong in this area, following N. I. Vavilov's theory on the centers of origin of cultivated plants as modified by Dr. Jack R. Harlan. He also includes some recent updating of the theories by the British scholars, T. Williams, J. Holden and J. Peacock based on Genes, Crops, and the Environment. However, I am mystified why Harlan's Crops and Man (1992) is cited rather than the Living Fields by Harlan from 1995. My speculation is that Kingsbury preferred a slightly more technical treatment of the subject in this case. Throughout the book, Kingsbury discuses the origin and development of corn (maize). According to Kingsbury, corn "bears less resemblance to its native ancestors than any other edible plant... ." He recounts the historical debates between the corn expert Dr. Paul Mangelsdorf and the future University of Chicago president (1961-68) Dr. George Beadle. Eventually Dr. Beadle's theory was to prevail that corn was indeed a descendent of teosinte rather than a "tripartite" derivation as Dr. Mangelsdorf suggested. Yet this was true scientific debate and a dignified discussion of scientific issues, and surely dissimilar to the heated Lysenko controversy, especially the part dealing with hybrid corn.
With Lysenko on the ascent in December, 1936, the Soviet Union held the first of three major debates on the nature of genetics. During this first debate Vavilov pointed out that some 5% of corn in the United States was already sown with F1 hybrid corn that had 15-20% higher yield than the parent varieties. Lysenko replied that this meant that 95% were not and urged the Soviet Union to continue to rely on non-hybrid corn source. Vavilov was speaking for the future: within thirty year nearly all corn in North America was sown with F1 hybrid stock, even though the farmers had to buy fresh seed every year. The issue was similar to the Green Revolution and modern genetically modified foods.
Kingsbury revisits these issues when discussing Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution and the current debates over genetically modified foods. He weighs the values of "home grown agriculture" against scientific production. He is critical of too strict control by corporate and government agriculture, but he is also wary of a romantic agriculture that precludes the use of scientific techniques. He is very concerned that business and corporate agriculture has overtaken public research into agriculture. Kingsbury has provided a splendid overview of plant breeding history, and one that appeals for the best and wisest use of agriculture by all sectors of society.
Originally published by Columbia University Press, 1999, entitled Diversity and Classification of Flowering Plants, the current edition is substantially revised and expanded.
This book culminates almost sixty years of Armen Takhtajan's research of the origin and classification of the flowering plants. It presents a continuation of Dr. Takhtajan's earlier publications including Systema Magnoliophytorum (1987), (in Russian), and Diversity and Classification of Flowering Plants (1997), (in English). In his latest book, the author presents a concise and significantly revised system of plant classification ('Takhtajan system') based on the most recent studies in plant morphology, embryology, phytochemistry, cytology, molecular biology and palynology. Flowering plants are divided into two classes: class Magnoliopsida (or Dicotyledons) includes 8 subclasses, 126 orders, c. 440 families, almost 10,500 genera, and no less than 195,000 species; and class Liliopsida (or Monocotyledons) includes 4 subclasses, 31 orders, 120 families, more than 3,000 genera, and about 65,000 species. This book contains a detailed description of plant orders, and descriptive keys to plant families providing characteristic features of the families and their differences.
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