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Nikolai Koltsov : biography

July 14, 1872 - December 2, 1940

Nikolai Konstantinovich Koltsov ( July 14, 1872December 2, 1940) was a Russian biologist and a pioneer of modern genetics. One of his students was Nikolay Timofeeff-Ressovsky.


Nikolai Koltsov worked on cytology and vertebrate anatomy. In 1903 Koltsov proposed that the shape of cells was determined by a network of tubules which he termed the cytoskeleton. In 1927 Koltsov proposed that inherited traits would be inherited via a "giant hereditary molecule" which would be made up of "two mirror strands that would replicate in a semi-conservative fashion using each strand as a template". These ideas were confirmed to have been accurate in 1953 when James D. Watson and Francis Crick described the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick had apparently not heard of Koltsov. US geneticist Richard Goldschmidt wrote about him: "There was the brilliant Nikolai Koltsov, probably the best Russian zoologist of the last generation, an enviable, unbelievably cultured, clear-thinking scholar, admired by everybody who knew him".


Koltsov graduated from Moscow University in 1894 and was a professor there (1895-1911). He established and directed the Institute of Experimental Biology in the middle of 1917, just before the October revolution. He was a member of the Agricultural Academy (VASKhNIL).

In 1920, Koltsov was arrested as a member of the non-existent "anti-Soviet Tactical Center" invented by the VCheKa. Prosecutor Nikolai Krylenko demanded the death sentence for Koltsov (67 of around 1000 arrested people were executed). Vadim J. Birstein. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press (2004) ISBN 0-8133-4280-5 However, after a personal appeal to Vladimir Lenin by Maxim Gorky Koltsov was released and was restored to his position as the head of the Koltsov Institute of Experimental Biology.

In 1937 and 1939, the supporters of Trofim Lysenko published a series of propaganda articles against Nikolai Koltsov and Nikolai Vavilov. They wrote: "The Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences not only did not criticize Professor Koltsov's fascistic nonsense, but even did not dissociate itself from his "theories" which support the racial theories of fascists". His death in 1940 was claimed to have been due to a stroke. However, "the biochemist Ilya Zbarsky revealed that the unexpected death of Koltsov was a result of his poisoning by the NKVD", the secret police of the Soviet Union. The same day his wife committed suicide.

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