Sakharov, Vladimir Vladimirovich

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(b. Simbirsk [now Ulyanovsk], Russia, 28 February 1902; d. Moscow, U.S.S.R., 9 January 1969)


Sakharov’s research was basically in experimental chemical mutagenesis, polyploids, radiation genetics, and human genetics. His father, Vladimir Matveevich Sakharov, was an agronomist; his mother, Maria Antonovna Ponyatovskaya, was the daughter of a Moscow physician and taught French in the Simbirsk Gymnasium.

In 1919 the family moved to Moscow, and in 1920 Sakharov entered the Pedagogical Faculty of the Second Moscow State University, from which he graduated in 1926, defending as dissertations two works done at the Institute of Experimental Biology (IEB) from 1922 to 1924: “Novaya mutatsia u drozofily” (“New Mutation in Drosophila”) and “Razbor muzykalnykh genealogy” (“Analysis of Musical Genealogies”). From 1925 through 1929 he taught soil science in a Moscow school.

In 1929 Sakharov entered the IEB, where he worked until 1948 under the immediate direction of its organizer and director, N. K. Koltsov. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s Sakharov did research on experimental mutagenesis. In 1932 he showed for the first time the mutagenic action of chemical agents (iodine, methylcholanthrene). Continuing this line of work, Sakharov formulated the idea of the “specific action of mutagenic factors” and showed the difference in the nature of spontaneous and induced chemical and physical factors in mutations. This research was completed with the discovery of the role of factors inherent in the mutational process (the aging of sperm, hibernation, inbreeding, and hybridization). At the begining of the 1930’s Sakharov also studied medical anthropogenesis, for instance, the distribution and character of inherited endemic goiter and of blood types in Uzbekistan (1929 and 1930).

In 1941 Sakharov began research on polyploids. With S. L. Frolova and V. V. Mansurova, he obtained by the colchicine method a highly fertile variety of tetraploid buckwheat, which by 1948 successfully competed with the best diploid variety. Sakharov continued to combine research with teaching in the department of general biology (headed by V. F. Natali of the Moscow Pedagogical Institute).

In 1950–1956 Sakharov worked at the Moscow Pharmaceutical Institute in the department of botany, which was headed by A. P. Zhebrak. Besides lecturing on plant genetics, he continued his research on polyploids (now on medicinal plants) and began experiments on chemical mutagenesis in plants. With B. M. Griner he created a botanical garden of medicinal plants. In 1956 he organized a section of genetics at the Moscow Society of Experimenters with Nature, which became the basis of the Vavilov All-Union Society of Geneticists and Selectionists, created in 1965.

In 1956 Sakharov moved to the Laboratory of Radiation Genetics of the Institute of Biophysics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where he headed a group for the study of polyploids: in 1966–1967 he headed the Laboratory of Polyploids of the Institute of General Genetics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1967 he moved his laboratory to the Institute of Biology of Development of the Soviet Academy. From 1956, combining his research on mutagenesis and polyploids, Sakharov began a comparative study of sensitivity of diploid and autotetraploid forms to the action of radiation and chemical mutagenesis (for example, on buckwheat and meadow brown butterflies), discovering the physiological protection of polyploids against the influence of mutagenesis. This work led Sakharov to pose the question and prove the possibility of selection for radiation-resistance on a theoretical level, and later in direct experiments on diploid and tetraploid buckwheat. At the end of the 1960’s he became professor at the Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology, where he lectured on genetics.

Sakharov was a scientist with a broad general biological and philosophical viewpoint, as well as an author who both posed problems and indicated the means for solving them in an original way. His scientific credo was stated in a small book, Organizm i sreda (“Organism and Environment,” 1968). Besides his personal scientific contribution, he played a large role in the development of genetics in the Soviet Union through his scientific administration and teaching and through propaganda for genetic knowledge, especially in the periods of conflict over genetics and its restoration.


I. Original Works. Sakharov’s writings include “Novye mutatsü Drosophila melanogaster” (“New Mutations of Drosophila melanogaster”), in Zhurnal eksperimentalnoi biologüi meditsiny, ser. A, 1, nos. 1–2 (1925), 75–91, written with A. S. Serebrovsky: “Yod kak khimichesky faktor deystvuyushchii na mutatsionny protsess u Drosophila melanogaster,” in Biologicheskii zhurnal, 1 . nos. 3–4 (1932), 1–8, with German summary. “Erregung des Mutationprozesses bei Drosophila melanogaster durch Jodbehandlung,” 7–8; –Jod als chemischer Faktor, der auf dem Mutationprozess von Drosophila melanogaster wirkt,” in Genetica (The Hague), 18 nos. 3–4 (1936), 193–216; “Spetsifichnost deystvia mutatsionnykh faktorov,” in Biologicheskii zhurnal, 7 , no. 3 (1938), 595–618, with English summary, “Effect of Inbreeding and Hybridization on the Mutation Rate,” 120–123.

See also “Tetraploidy in Cultivated Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum),” in Doklady Akademii nauk SSSR, 43 , no. 5 (1944), 213–216, written with S. L. Frolova and V. V. Mansurova; “Cytological Basis of High Fertility in Autotetraploid Buck wheat,” in Nature, 158 , no. 4015 (1945), 520, written with S. L. Frolova and V. V. Mansurova; “Chuvstvitelnost diploidnykh i autotetraploidnykh rastenii gamma-izlucheniyu,” in Botanicheskii zhurnal SSSR, 43 , no. 7 (1958), 989–997, written with V. V. Mansurova and V. V. Khvostova, with English summary, “The Sensitivity of Diploid and Autotetraploid Plants to Gamma Radiation,” 997: “Otbor na radioustoichivost diploidnykh i autotetraploidnykh form grechiki posevnoi (Fagopyrum esculentum Moënh)” (“Selection for Radio-Resistance in Diploid and Autotetraploid Forms of Buckwheat”), in Radiobiologia, 2 , no. 4 (1962), 595–600, written with R. N. Platonova; and Organizm i sreda (“Organism and Environment”: Moscow, 1968).

II. Secondary Literature. See B. L. Astaurov, A. A. Malinovsky, and V. S. Andreev, “Vladimirovich Sakharov,” in Genetika (Moscow), 5 , no. 2 (1969), 177–182, with a bibliography of 84 titles: and Y. I. Polansky, “Vladimir Vladimirovich Sakharov (1902ndash;1969),” in Citologia, 2 , no. 3 (1969), 398–400.

Vassily Babkoff