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 Nikolay Koltsov

Born:   July 15, 1872
Deceased:   December 2, 1940



Koltsov, Nikolay Konstantinovich, Russian biologist and author of matrix synthesis of hereditary molecules, is born in Moscow. His father is employed in a large fur company as an accountant. When little Nikolay reaches eight years, he enters Moscow Gymnasium, which leaves several years later with a golden medal. Young Nikolay collects plants, seeds and insects, walking all over Moscow Region and later Crimea. In 1890 Nikolay Konstantinovich is admitted to natural science department of physics and mathematics faculty of Moscow State University, where he chooses comparative anatomy and comparative embryology. At that time he works with the head of Russian zoology school M. Menzbir. In 1894 Koltsov takes part in the 9th Congress of Russian naturalists and doctors, where makes a report on vertebrates, and later makes a fundamental research on vertebrate hind legs, for which is awarded a gold medal.

After graduation from the university in 1894 Koltsov prepares for professorship in the same institution. Three years of hard work end with six Master exams and an assignment abroad for two years. Nikolay Konstantinovich works in German laboratories and in Italian marine biological stations, collecting materials for the Master thesis, which Koltsov defends in 1901.

While a student, the scientist switches from comparative anatomy to cytology. Upon return from abroad Nikolay Konstantinovich starts reading a course of lectures in this subject. In 1902 Koltsov goes abroad again, where spends another two years in largest biological laboratories and marine stations. In these years biologists start losing interest in descriptive, morphological sciences, and new tendencies appear in biology experimental cytology, biological chemistry, developmental mechanics and genetics, which suggest absolutely new approaches to cognizing organic world. World famous cytologists persuade Koltsov to switch from observing morphology of dead samples to studying living processes in living objects. Koltsovs second foreign journey results in the first chapter of his classic work Studies of cell shape called On sperm cells of decapods in connection with general ideas of cell organization (1905), which later becomes part of his Doctor thesis. This study together with the second part of Studies of cell shape, coming off the press in 1908, is now known as Koltsov principle of shape-determining cell skeletons (cytoskeletons).

Nikolay Konstantinovich returns to Russia in 1903 and adds another activity to his scientific research he dives into teaching and science-organizing process. The cytology lecture course of 1899 develops into previously unknown course of general biology. Another Koltsovs lecture course, dedicated to systematic zoology, is extremely popular among students together with the Practice in Zoology, where students seated an exam.

Nikolay Konstantinovich is also politically active and supports communists, permitting them to hold meeting in his study during revolution of 1905. The scientist writes a book, commemorating student victims of October and December 1905, which his political enemies attempt to destroy in the very first day; however, half of total number of copies is successfully spread among people. Soon after revolution defeat Koltsov schedules his Doctor Thesis defense, but then refuses to defend his work behind the doors. In 1909 Nikolay Konstantinovich Koltsov is banned from teaching for his political views and quits from the university in 1911 joining other famous teachers. Till 1918 the genius teaches at Higher Women Courses and in Moscow People University, training a pleiad of famous biologists.

Koltsov finishes with supporting skeletal cell elements and turns to studying contractile structures. The biologist writes third chapter of his Studies of cell shape called On stalk contractility of Zoothamnium alternans in 1911, followed by works on cation (1912) and proton (1915) effect on cell processes. Said studies are very important for developing so-called physiological ion rows and attract attention of Russian biologists to the burning issue of active environment, launching a new science field of physico-chemical biology in Russia. These studies result in awarding Koltsov status of a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1916.

In 1917 Moscow Society of Science Institutes opens the Institute of Experimental Biology for Nikolay Konstantinovich Koltsov. For a long time this institute remains the only one non-educational institution in Russia, performing research in biology. Here Koltsov gets an opportunity to unite newest tendencies of modern experimental biology developmental physiology, genetics, biochemistry and cytology with studying problems from various points of view and via various methods. Think tank of the Institute first consists from Koltsovs students, and later widens with eminent biologists from other science institutions. In 1920 Koltsov establishes the Eugenic Society in Russia, and the Institute opens the eugenic department, where researchers start studies in human medical genetics (first ever studies of human blood groups, blood catalase and etc.) and anthropogenetics (inheritance of hair and eye colour, variability and heredity of complex features of monozygotic twins) and etc. The department opens first Russian medical and genetic guidance centre and starts first Soviet research of fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) genetics.

In 1927 during 3rd Congress of zoologists, anatomists and histologists Nikolay Konstantinovich Koltsov makes a report, where he widens the meaning of general biological principles Omne vivum ex ovo (Every living thing [is] from [an] egg) and Omnis cellula ex cellula (Every cells comes from a cell) by proclaiming a paradoxical thesis Omnis molecula ex molecula (Every molecule comes from a molecule). Great biologist means not any molecules he talks about these hereditary molecules, which reproduction maintains morphophysiological succession of living beings organization. Koltsov imagines these hereditary molecules as giant protein macromolecules, assembling axial genetically active structure of chromosomes or, according to Koltsov terminology, genoneme. Koltsov suggests genetic information to be coded in highly polymeric protein chain, not in DNA nucleotide alternation. As for transcription process, the scientist considers it to be connected with replication of protein component of nucleoprotein chromosome base. This mistake appears from visual disappearance of DNA during late ovogenesis and in giant chromosomes.

December 1936 is notable for the special session of All-Russian Academy of Agricultural Science named after Lenin, called to fight bourgeois genetics. Many eminent scientists speak in support of genetics, Nikolay Konstantinovich Koltsov among them. However, Koltsovs theories in genetics and eugenics are considered to be politically unhealthy, and Soviet government starts persecuting the genius, dismissing him from directors chair first.

Nikolay Konstantinovich Koltsov dies in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) in December 2, 1940, leaving heaps of unpublished scientific works. Among them there is fourth chapter of Studies of cell shape, which ripened for about 20 years and tells readers about experiments with physical and chemical basis of morphophysiological phenomena in cells of effector organs.


Kizilova Anna


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