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 Sergey Winogradsky

Born:   1 September 1856
Deceased:   25 February 1953

microbiologist and bacteriologist


Sergey Nikolayevich Winogradsky, world famous microbiologist and bacteriologist, was born to the family of a noble lawyer in the city of Kiev, which at that time belonged to the Russian Empire.

In 1873 Sergey Winogradsky finished his secondary education with the gold medal and was admitted to the faculty of law of Kiev University. Well, he spent only one month there and then exchanged to the natural science department of the faculty of physics and mathematics. Young Winogradsky was not satisfied with the quality of education and left the university in 1875 for St. Petersburg conservatorys piano classes. Young man dedicated only two years to music and in 1877 returned to the second year of the natural science department. Sergey Winogradsky graduated from the university in 1881 and was allowed to stay at the botany department for preparing for professorship.

Research fellows of geological faculty of Moscow State University established a group of archeological geophysics GEOR, which surveys archeological artifacts by means of geological radar sensing. Russian enthusiasts have already found several cultural and historical burials, which are extremely interesting for their colleague archeologists.

At that time microbiology entered the life of the future researcher, who devoted his entire life to this science. Winogradsky wanted to know more about microbes, and in 1885 he went to Strasbourg for studying at the laboratory of famous mycologist Anton de Bary, who was interested in autotrophic bacteria. Sergey Winogradsky thoroughly studied morphology and physiology of sulfur and iron bacteria by means of hanging drop and his own invention: elective cultures, which is still used for growing microorganisms, having specific nutrition conditions. Fantastic intuition of Winogradsky helped him to discover new energy source, essential for survival, growth and propagation of microbes. The scientist showed that sulfur bacteria lived on energy from oxidation of hydrogen sulfide, sulfur and sulfurous acid. The same phenomena was discovered for iron bacteria, which oxidized iron monoxide (FeO) into iron oxide (Fe2O3). Discovery of the process, similar to breathing, started a new chapter in biology. Winogradsky named the process mineral breathing.

In 1888 Winogradsky returned to Russia, but left it the same year for Zurich, where he improved his chemical education. Same year Sergey Winogradsky started studying the process of nitrification and its role in soil formation. The scientist confirmed that nitrification consisted of two stages and gave detailed description of each stage: ammonium salts were oxidized into nitrites, which later turned into nitrates. That gave enough energy for microorganisms to assimilate carbon dioxide from atmosphere. The scientist called that type of metabolism chemosynthesis, and this name is now generally recognized. Discovery of chemosynthesis was one of the brightest events in biology it showed that organic matter could form via either photosynthesis or chemosynthesis and brought its author Leeuwenhoeks prize.

In 1890 I. Mechnikov tendered Winogradsky Pasteurs invitation to head one of the departments in Pasteur Institute. After hesitation, the scientist declined the flattering offer, and in 1891 headed the department of general microbiology of the Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg until 1912. In 1903 Winogradsky organized Russian Society of Microbiology and was its chairman for the first two years.

At those times, Sergey Winogradsky was fully absorbed by studying aerobic and anaerobic nitrogen-fixing organisms, retting initiators, and preparing plague vaccines (that work began during his trip to Paris in 1882). The biologist actively participated in fighting plague at the Russian South. In 1904 Winogradsky isolated an unusual bacterium from soil: it had spores, didnt nee any oxygen and consumed molecular nitrogen. The scientist called this organism Clostridium pasterianum, thus paying respect to genial Pasteur, who was his teacher. The discovery stimulated Winogradskys interest to biological process of nitrification. Sergey Winogradsky was the first in the world to introduce modern ideas of microorganisms being part of natural cycles of elements and to prove that soil should be studied as an integrated living organism, borrowing its partsform inorganic world and returning them.

Nitrifying bacteria
Scientific and social activities of Sergey Winogradsky were judged by merit by Russian and foreign scientific communities: December 29, 1894 was the day when Sergey Winogradsky was elected the corresponding member of Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1901 the scientist became the honorary member of Moscow Society of amateur natural scientists, anthropologists and ethnographers. Following year brought Winogradsky the title of the member of Frances Academy of Sciences and Frances Agricultural Society. In 1904 the microbiologist was elected the full-time member of Russian Medical Board. Sergey Winogradsky made enormous contribution to fundamentals of soil microbiology, which promoted sharp progress in scientific recommendations and rapid increase in labour productivity in agriculture. Moreover, discoveries of Sergey Winogradsky allowed Russian microbiology to become a world leader.

In 1905 Sergey Winogradsky suddenly decided to quit from the position of director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine without leaving the institute. The reason for such a decision was health failure Winogradsky suffered from nephritis and had to leave St. Petersburg with cold and wet weather many times a year.

In January 1912 Winogradsky officially left his position in the institute and moved to his family estate, located in the Ukraine near the town of Podolsk, where the scientist had spent his childhood. His interests changed a little bit Winogradsky shifted his attention to the problems of agriculture, land management, soils science, forest management and etc.

The October revolution on 1917, followed by the civil war, caused Sergey Winogradsky to leave the country with his whole family a wife and four daughters and move to Yugoslavia. In 1922 the scientist received the letter from Emile Roux, the director of Pasteur Institute, in which he invited the eminent researcher to arrive to Paris for work. Winogradsky agreed and headed agro-bacteriological department of Pasteur Institute. France became a new research polygon for tireless Russian biologist Sergey Winogradsky developed new techniques for studying physiological properties of representatives of soil microbiota. His work in France was fruitful.

In 1923 Sergey Winogradsky was elected the honorary member of Russian Academy of Sciences, and later Presidium of the Academy established the prize named after the great scientist. Winogradsky retired from active research in 1940 and died in France on February 25, 1953.

Source: Winogradsky's Biography

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