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Kim E. Hummer and Jim F. Hancock

N.I. Vavilov, Academician of the V.I. Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, takes his place as a founding pillar of knowledge in the cathedral of the origin and development of cultivated plants. Relying on the theories of his revered predecessors, Charles Darwin and Alphonse de Candolle, Vavilov developed the concept of centers of origin for agronomic crops. Vavilov’s astute hypotheses set the stage for the modern use of exotic germplasm in plant breeding. Vavilov, a devoted scientist, continued to revise and refine his theory of the centers of origin throughout his lifetime based on additional plant collections and data evaluation. Though he initially proposed three in 1924, and eight in 1935, his final papers of 1940, discussed seven major centers with some minor additions. His concept of specific centers of origin for crop plants was not an isolated aphorism but has directed breeders, on their study and reflection, to the continued improvement and economic development of plants for humanity. Inherent genetic plant variability is the basis of domestication and breeding into crops of economic importance with food, fuel, fiber, and industrial uses. The objective of this article is to present a summary of Vavilov’s plant explorations. His collection trips led to the development of his theory of the centers of origin of cultivated crops, the law of homologous variation, as well as his concept of genetic erosion. Further modification of his theories by other scientists and the impact of his ideas are mentioned. His influence on present day conservation of genetic resources are presented.