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 Vladimir Engelhardt

Born:   21 November 1894
Deceased:   10 July 1984

Russian scientist and researcher, father of molecular biology in Soviet Union


Vladimir Engelhardt, father of molecular biology in Soviet Union, was born in 1894 to the family of a county doctor in Moscow, where his father improved his skills. The following year the family moved to Yaroslavl. Vladimir, the only child in the family, was successful in learning and showed interest in science. Future scientist loved physics and chemistry and was often involved in funny accidents, while experimenting.

The family wasn’t surprised, when Vladimir decided to continue his education, but he wasn’t sure what field he was going to choose. He tried to enter electrotechnic department of St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, but, while waiting for results, future researcher was admitted to mathematics faculty of Moscow State University and decided to continue studying in Moscow. However, he got disappointed in mathematics and switched first to chemistry and later to medical sciences, paying attention to biochemistry.

After graduating from the university in 1919, Vladimir Engelhardt spent two years at military service, and in 1921 upon returning from the army, his scientific career kicked off. Between 1921 and 1929 the scientist was employed as a research fellow and later head of department in the Institute of Biochemistry. Later he spent 4 years in Kazan as a professor and head of a biochemistry department of medical faculty of Kazan University. Development of the career brought Vladimir Engelhardt to Leningrad and later to Moscow State University.

As a scientist, Vladimir Engelhardt was mainly concentrated in metabolism of organic phosphor compounds, their role in cell’s energy production and physiological functions, and studies of relationships between energy processes and mechanical properties of muscle proteins. While studying myosin, main structural protein of muscles, together with M. Luybimova, Vladimir Engelhardt discovered that myosin could act as an enzyme called adenosine triphosphatase – it could split ATP (adenosine triphosphate) into inorganic phosphate and adenylic acid, thus releasing energy for contraction of muscle fiber. Second interesting fact about myosin, noticed by the researcher, was that properties of that protein changed, while interacting with ATP. Engelhardt conducted an elegant experiment: he used myosin threads to make analogue of muscle fiber, and these threads “contracted” in presence of ATP like muscles. In 1943 this work was awarded Stalin Prize, and its conclusions were confirmed by various scientists from all over that world.

In 1944 the scientist was elected a full member of Soviet academy of medical sciences, and in 1953 – full member of Soviet academy of sciences. Vladimir Engelhardt headed a laboratory of animal cell biochemistry in the Bach Institute of Biochemistry and to Pavlov Institute of Physiology, and department of biochemistry in the Institute of Experimental Medicine. Since 1959 the scientist was a director of the Institute of Radiation and Physico-Chemical Biology, which later became the Institute of Molecular Biology.

Vladimir Engelhardt suggested an explanation of a physiological mechanism of interaction between processes of respiration and fermentation, the effect of inhibition of fermentation by oxygen, coming from respiration. This effect later became known as Pasteur effect. The scientist supervised a study, during which primary structure of two transport RNA was deciphered; later amino acid sequence of a large protein molecule was identified, and new techniques for structural studies of proteins and nucleic acids were developed. Vladimir Engelhardt also emphasized extreme importance of donating blood, because lack of donated blood could have caused serious problems in radiation medicine, surgery, and etc.

The researcher wrote that genetic engineering would have helped creating bacteria in order to produce proteins, alien for those organisms. Interferon, produced by microbes have become an important component of antiviral therapy.

Hence, works of Vladimir Engelhardt promoted development of many contemporary issues of biochemistry. The scientist believed that creativity was a gift to the mankind on its long evolutional journey. Engelhardt was among first eminent scientist, who paid attention to the problems of vitaminology – he revealed mechanisms of biological effects of many vitamins and helped organize commercial production and chemical purification of many vitamins. Vladimir Engelhardt started studying molecular basics of reverse transcription, his colleagues said that he had always been at the leading edge of science.

Vladimir Engelhardt had many titles and awards. The researcher lived and worked in Moscow, where he died in 1984, being almost 90 years old.


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