Koltzoff, Nikolai Konstantinovich

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Koltzoff, Nikolai Konstantinovich

(b. Moscow, Russia, 15 July 1872; d. Leningrad U.S.S.R., 2 December 1940)

zoology, cytology, genetics.

Koltzoff’ father, Konstantin Stepanovich Koltzoff, was an accountant for a large furrier; his mother, Varvara Ivanova Bykhovskaya, came from an educated family of merchants. Koltzoff married his pupil and co-worker Maria Polievktovna Sadovnikova-Shorygina.

After graduating from the Gymnasium with a gold medal in 1890, Koltzoff entered the natural sciences section of the faculty of physics and mathematics of Moscow University, from which he graduated in 1894 with a first-class diploma and a gold medal. While a student Koltzoff worked in the department of comparative anatomy under the direction of M. A. Menzbir; his second teacher was the gifted embryologist and histologist V. N. Lvov. His close friends were A. N. Severtsov and P. P. Sushkin. Koltzoff began his scientific work in comparative anatomy, studying the origin and development of the paired limbs of vertebrates. His first published work was devoted to the development of the pelvis in frogs; and for his thesis, “Taz i zadnie konechnosti pozvonochnykh” (“Pelvis and Posterior Extremities of Vertebrates”), he received a gold medal.

Following his graduation from the university, Koltzoff remained to prepare for a teaching career. After three years of work and passing six master’s examinations, he went abroad for two years, working in the laboratories of Flemming at Kiel and of Otto Bütschli in Heidelberg, and at the biological stations in Naples, Villefranche, and Roscoff. From this trip Koltzoff brought back material for his master’ thesis, “Razvitie golovy minogi. K ucheniyu o metamerii golovy pozvonochnykh” (published as “Metamerie des Kopfes von Petromyzon planeri”), which he defended in the fall of 1901. In 1902-1904 he again worked abroad in the laboratories of Bütschli and O. Hertwig and in the biological stations at Naples and Villefranche. Koltzoff returned to Moscow with his doctoral dissertation, “Issledovania o spermiakh desyatinogikh rakov” (“Research on the Spermatozoa of the Decapoda”), the defense of which was set at Moscow University for January 1906. In connection, however, with the severe repression of the first Russian revolution by the czarist government, Koltzoff, who belonged to the radical and revolutionary-minded wing of the younger faculty of the university, refused to defend his dissertation. (He did not receive the doctorate until 1935.)

In 1903, Koltzoff began teaching at Moscow University and at the Women’s University. In 1911 Koltzoff left the university with a large group of progressive professors and teachers, in protest against the reactionary politics of the czarist minister Kasso. The center of his scientific and teaching activity shifted to the Shanyavsky People’s University, which was free from government control. Here Koltzoff organized an important biological laboratory. Students who later became outstanding scientists worked there, among them M. M. Zavadovsky, A. S. Serebrovsky, S. N. Skadovsky, G. V. Epstein, G. I. Roskin, and P. I. Zhivago. Koltzoff returned to Moscow University in 1918 and remained there until 1930, heading the department of experimental biology. Koltzoff’s outstanding ability as a scientific administrator developed after the Revolution; in 1917 he was named head of the Institute of Experimental Biology, Which he then directed for twenty-two years. The Institute was the first Russian biological research institute (not including the small zoological laboratories at the Academy of Sciences). It played a leading role in the development of new experimental areas in biological sciences—genetics, cytology, protozoology, hydrobiology, physicochemical biology, endocrinology, experimental embryology, and animal psychology. About 1,000 investigations were carried out under Koltzoff’s direction, and the majority of the leading workers in new areas of experimental biology studied under him.

Koltzoff’s career, which lasted more than forty-five years, may be divided into several periods that reflect his evolving scientific interests. Koltzoff quickly lost interest in comparative anatomy, which had become somewhat narrow and static, and even during his student years he had transferred his attention to experimental cytology. He was especially interested in the biology of the cell, particularly its formative structures. Koltzoff advanced the idea of the existence of the fibrillary elastic skeleton, which determines not only the anatomy of the cell but also, in a more general way, its entire organization. Starting from this theoretical principle (which has come too be called the Koltzoff principle), he moved to the study of nonmotile spermatozoa, such as that of the Decapoda, which had been very little studied. His research on this subject has become classic in the study of the structure, development, physicochemical properties and physiology ofo these peculiar, highly specialized cells and their homology with motile spermatooozoa. In physiology Koltzooff’s observations on the method of penetration of the Decapoda spermatozoon into the egg cell were especially important. Experimentally verifying his proposed principle of skeletal structure in the cell, Koltzoff carried out a series of basic studies on the from of the cell. The first part was published in Russian in 1905 and contained the data on the decapod spermatozoa. The second opart, which appeared in German in 198, is devoted to the comparative study of the skeleton of the spermatazoon head in a number of animals.

On the basis of this research Koltzoff concluded that in the cell each contractile fiber must consist of a firm skeleton and a surrounding liquid protoplasm. To confirm this hypothesis Koltzoff devoted the third part of his major work, which appeared in German in 1911, to the statics and dynamics of the contractile stem of the sea infusorion Zoothamnium. On the basis of the data obtained Koltzoff expressed certain hypotheses about the mechanism of the contractile processes in such highly specialized elements as the muscle fibers. The fourth part of his research on the from of cells consisted of the study of the physicochemical properties, morphology, and functions of cells of the effector organs, particularly the pigment cells of the skin. This research was carried out during his last years and remained unfinished; his works on the morphology and nerve and hormone regulation of melanophores were not published until 1940, the years of his death.

The necessity for careful physicochemical analysis of the structures and processes that determine the from of the cell led Koltzoff to the second area of ohis research—physicochemical and colloidal biology. Having mastered the principles and methods of this new area of research, Koltzoff carried out several important works in it, resulting in such publications as “Über die physiolsosgische Kationenreihe” (1912), “Über die Wirkung von H-Ioonen auf die Phagocytose von Carchesium lachmani” (1914), sand “Les principes physico-chimiques de I’irritabilité des cellules pigmentaires, musculaires et glandularies” (1929). To some degree Über die Künstlliclhe Partenogenese des Seidenspinners” (1932) also belongs to this area because of its use of chemical methods of stimulating egg cells. In another sense this research, because of its great general importance, must be related to the experimental and theoretical analysis of general biological problems.

In this third area Koltzoff was a pioneer in and apologist for genetics. His institute became the center for important work in general and applied genetics, such as the pioneer research of the group headed by S. S. Chetverikov on the genetic structure of the Drosophila population, research on coloration of guinea pigs and the chemical properties of blood groups in man, research on genetics of farm animals and fish and on the genetic method in silk culture. Koltzoff’s theoretical ideas—which proved to be prophetic—on the submicroscopic structure and template process of reproduction of the chromosome’s macromolecular structure were especially important. This hypothesis, which undoubtedly had a strong influence on the development of theoretical genetics, was expressed as early as 1927. Koltzoff postulated the existence of “hereditary molecules,” gigantic polymerous protein macromolecules which constitute an axial, genetically active structure of the chromosomes; the genes are amino acid radicals connected with these molecules. The replication of these gigantic molecules occurs according to the principles of self-reproduction—“omnis molecular ex molecula.”.

The sole essential difference between the views of Koltzoff and those of contemporary genetics is in the idea that genetic information is coded not by sequence of nucleotides of DNA but by the sequence of amino acids in the highly polymerous protein molecule; it must be noted, however, that at the end of the 1920’s almost nothing was known of the significance of nucleic acids. Koltzoff gave his attention to one other cardinal question of genetics, the mechanism for realization of the influence of the genes on the characteristics depending on it. This question was examined in particular detail through consideration of oocytes of certain vertebrates in “Struktura khromosom i obmen veshchestv v nikh” (“Structure of Chromosomes and Exchange of Substances in Them” [1938]). In this work he introduced ideas of the exchange of chromosomal substances and of the chemical influence on the cytoplasm of the egg and of the formed organism. One of Koltzoff’s basic theoretical ideas was that of the necessity of synthesis and mutual exchange in the new areas of experimental biology; genetics, cytology, experimental embryology, and biochemistry. He spoke of this in many papers the titles of which emphasize the importance of the relations between these disciplines: “Fiziko-khimicheskie osnovy morfologii” (“Physicochemical Bases of Morphology” [1928]; Ob eksperimentalnom poluchenii mutatsy (“On the Experimental Obtaining oif Mutations” [1930]), Physiologie du développemnt et génétique (1935), Rol gena v fiziologii razvitia (“The Role of the Gene in the Physiolgy of Development” [1935]), and Les molecules hrééditarire (1939). Koltzoff tried to use all the achievement so experimental biology in medicine and in agriculture: his institute carried out a wide range of research of research in endocrinology, applied genetics, silk culture, and other fields.

An excellent teacher, Koltzoff introduced a course in experimental biology at Moscow university and taught it for thirty years, continually improving it. At Shanyavsky University he introduced a two-year major practicum during which the students carried out various independent research projects. Koltzoff was one of the founders and, for many years, and editor of the journals Priroda (“Nature”), Zhurnal eksperimentalnoy biologii (“Journal of Experimental Biology”), Uspekhi sovremennoy bilogii (“Progress in Contemporary Biology”), and Biologicheskii zhurnal (“Biological Journal”).He organized several biological stations for his institute and aided the development of theoretical and applied bilogical research in various areas of the Soviet Union.

Koltzoff was a corresponding member of the Russian (Soviet) Academy of Sciences from 1916, president of the biological section of the Association of Natural Scientists and Physicians, an active member of the V.I. Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (1935), and honorary member of the Leningrad Society of Amateurs of Natural Science, Anthropology Anthnography and Ethnography (1928), the Moscow Society of Experimenters With Nature (1936), and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1933), and an Honored Worker in Science of the R.S.F.S.R.(1934).


I. Orginal Works. Koltzff’s writings include “metamerie des Kopfes von Petromyzon planeri”, in Anatomischer Anzeitger16 , no.20 (1899), 510-523; Entwicklungs- geschichte des Kopfes von Petromyzon planeri. Ein Bitrag zur Lehre über Metamerie des Wirbelthierkopfes (Moscow, 1902); Lssledovania o spermiakh desyatinogigh rakov v svyazi s obshchimi soobrazheniami otnositelno organizatsii Kletki (“Research on the Spermatozoa of Decapoda in Relation to Considerations of the Organization of the Cell”; Moscow, 1905); “Studien über die Gestalt der Zelle. I. Untersuchungen über die Spermin der Decapoden als Einleitung in das Problem der Zellengestalt”, in Archivfür mikroskopische Anatomie und Entwicklungsmechanik, 67 (1906), 365-572; II. “Untersuchungen über das Kopfskelett des tierischen Spermiums”, in Archiv für Zellforschung, 2 (1908), 1-65; III. “Untersuchungen über ktilität des Stammes von Zoothamnium alternans”, ibid., 7 (1911), 244-423; über die physiologische Katio-nenreihye”, in Pflügers Archu für die gesamte Physiologie,149 (1912), 327-363; “Uber die Wirkung von H-lonen auf die phagocytose on Carchesium lachmani”, in Internationale Zeitschrift fur physikalisch-chemische Biologie,1 , nos. 1-2 (1914), 82-107; “O nasledstvennikh khimicheskikh svoistvakh krovi” (“On Inherited Chemical Characteristics of the Blood”), in Uspekhi eksperimentalnoy biologii, 1 , nos.3-4 (1922), 333-361; “Uber erbliche chemische Bestandteile des Blutes”, in Zeitschrift fur induktive Abstammungs-und Vererbungslehre, supp. (1928), 931-935; “Fiziko-khimicheskie osnovy morfoligii” (“Physicochemical Bases of Morphology”), in Uspekhi eksperimentalnoy biologii, ser. B, 7 , no. 1 (1928), 3-31; “Les principes physico-chimiques de I’irritabilite des cellules pigmentaires, musculaires et glandularires”, in Revue générale des sciences pures et appliquees,40 , no. 6 (1929), 165-171; “Ob eksperimentalnom poluchenii mutatsy” (“On the Experimental Obtaining of Mutations”), in Zhurnal eksperimentalnoy biologii,6 no. 4 (1930), 237-268; “Uber die kunstliche Partenogenese des Seidenspeinner,” in Biologisches Zentralblatt, 52 , nos, 11-12 (1932), 626-642; “Rol gena v fiziologii razvitia” (“The Role of the Gena in the Physiology of Development”), in Biologicheskii Zhurnal, 4 , no. 5 (1935), 753-774; Physiologie du développement et génétique, Actulites Scientifiques et Industrielles no. 254 (Paris, 1935); Organizatsia kletki... (“Organization of the Cell”: moscow-Leningrad, 1936); “Issledovania po razdrozhimosti effektornykh khromatoforov” (“Research on the Divisibility of the Effector Chromatophores”, in Biologicheskii zhurnal,7 , nos.5-6 (1938), 895-936; “Structure of Chromosomes and Exchange of Substances in Them”), ibid., no. 1 (1938), 3-46; “O vozmozhnosti planomernogo sozdania novykh genotipov putem karioklasticheskikh vozdeystvy” (“On the Possibility of the planned Creation of New Genotypes by Means of Karyoclastic Action”), ibid., no.3 (1938), 679-697; Les molecules héréditaires, Actulites Scientifiques et Industrielles no. 776 (Paris, 1939); “Amikroskopicheskaya morfologia melanofora, (“Amicroscopic Morphology of the Melanophore”), in Doklady Akademii nauk SSSR, 28 , no. 6 (1940), 554-558; “Gormonalnaya regulyatsia melanoforov” (“Hormonal Regulation in Melanophores”), ibid., 548-553; “Nervnaya regulyatsia melanoforov”(“Nerve Regulation of Melanophore”), ibid., no. 5 (1940), 463-469; and “Mikroskopicheskaya morfologia melanoforov” (“Microscopic Morphology of Melanophores”), ibid., 458-462.

II. Secondary Literature. See B. L. Astaurov, “Pamyati N. K. Koltosva” (“Recollections of N. K. Koltsov”), in Priroda (1941), no.5, 108-117; and “Dve vekhi v razvtii geneticheskikh predstavleny” (“Two Landmarks in the Develpment of Gentic Ideas”), in Byulleten Moskovskago obshchestva ispytatelei prirody, biological sec., 70 , no. 4 (1965), 23-32; N. K. Koltsov, Materialy k bio-bibliografii uchyenykh SSSR (“Material for a Biobibliography of Scientists of the U.S.S.R.”), biological science ser. (Moscow, in press), with intro. by B. L. Astaurov; V. Polynin, Prorok v svoem otechestve (“Prophet in His Country”; Moscow, 1969), a popular work; and S. Y. Zalkind, “Tsitologia” (“Cytology”), in Sovetskaya nauka i tekhnika za 50 let. Razvitie biologii v SSSR (“Soviet Science and Technology After 50 Years. Development of Biology in the U.S.S.R.” Moscow, 1967), pp. 408-426.

S. Y. Zalkind