Gurwitsch (Gurvich), Alexander Gavrilovich

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GURWITSCH (Gurvich ), ALEXANDER GAVRILOVICH (1874–1954), Soviet Russian biologist. Gurwitsch was born in Poltava, Ukraine. After studying and teaching abroad he returned to Russia in 1906, and from 1907 until 1918 taught at the women's higher education courses in St. Petersburg. He was a professor at Simferopol University from 1918 to 1925 and at Moscow University from 1925 to 1930. For the next 18 years he worked at the All-Union Institute of Experimental Medicine in Leningrad. He was awarded a Stalin Prize in 1941.

Gurwitsch was one of the first scientists to study the effects of certain types of drugs on development. His concern with the problem of organization of embryonic growth led him to study the mechanics of cell division. In 1923 he began to publish a series of papers which aroused intense controversy. He claimed to have detected what he called "mitogenetic rays," a form of energy emitted by living cells, which he believed stimulated growth in other tissues. His original experiments were performed with onion roots. In a book published in 1937, Mitogenetic Analysis of the Excitation of the Nervous System, Gurwitsch attempted to extend his concept to explain the activity of the nervous system. The evidence on which these ideas were based was generally regarded as equivocal, and most biologists rejected his theories.


Blyakher and Zalkind, in: Byulleten Moskovskogo obshchestva ispytaniya prirody, 60 (1955), 103–8.

[Norman Levin]