An inquiry ordered by President Medvedev could be the last chance to save the world’s largest collection of fruits and berries from being bulldozed to make way for a Russian housing estate.
The Pavlovsk Experimental Station is a gene bank housing tens of thousands of varieties of genetically diverse and rare crops.
Supporters argue that its many plants contain characteristics that could be crucial for saving harvests at risk in many parts of the world from the effects of climate change.
But a court recently gave permission for property developers to build on the land.
“This place is unique and there’s no other place like it nearby to move the plants to – unless you replant stupidly and kill the collection,” said Pavlovsk director Fyodor Mikhovich.
The facility, near St Petersburg, was founded by Nikolai Vavilov, a famous Russian scientist who died in one of Stalin’s labour camp.
During World War II, 12 scientists were said to have starved to death rather than eat the seeds and plants.
Experts argue the collection has to be kept as living specimens.
Leonid Burmistrov, a senior scientist at Pavlovsk, said: “If the genotypes are destroyed, Russia’s food security will be weakened, and this will be harmful not only for the country but even for the whole world, because all these plants are registered in the international data base.”
Scientists have appealed against the court decision. But the state body that won the legal right to sell Pavlovsk for private housing has reportedly argued the land is not used. It also disputes claims that the collections are priceless.