Serebrovskii, Aleksandr Sergeevich
Serebrovskii, Aleksandr Sergeevich
SEREBROVSKII, ALEKSANDR SERGEEVICH
(b. Tula, Russia, 18 February 1892; d. Moscow, U.S.S.R., 26 June 1948)
animal genetics, evolutionary theory, eugenics.
A founder of Soviet genetics, Serebrovskii studied with Nikolai K. Kol’tsov before World War I and began his career just after the Bolshevik revolution. His scientific work, philosophical viewpoint, and political commitments paralleled those of H. J. Muller and J. B. S. Haldane. Stimulated by recent scientific developments in genetics and by the revolutionary social changes taking place around him, he developed his own Marxist philosophical approach and applied it with varying success to a wide range of genetic problems. This led to pioneering work on poultry genetics, gene structure, human heredity, mathematical biology, population genetics, evolutionary theory, agriculture, and the biological control of insect pests.
Several years before Muller, Serebrovskii proposed a socialist eugenics program based on wide-scale human artificial insemination, but the plan got him into political trouble during the “great break” (1929–1932) and was later invoked by Lysenkoists to discredit genetics. During the 1930’s Serebrovskii emerged as a leader of Soviet animal breeding research and one of Lysenko’s most outspoken critics. He was never arrested, however, and died of natural causes in 1948, just six weeks before Lysenko’s triumph.
Serebrovskii’s most lasting impact on Soviet science came through his teaching career as chairman of the genetics department of Moscow University (1930–1948), where he trained two generations of Soviet geneticists, including many who would help to rebuild the discipline after Lysenko’s fall from power in 1964.
Career . Serebrovskii was born into the family of a leftist architect acquainted with the prominent Bolshevik theoretician A. A. Bogdanov and the future commissar of education A. V. Lunacharskii. In 1909 he graduated from the Tula Realschule and entered the natural science division of the physico-mathematical faculty of Moscow University, from which he graduated in 1914. A student of N. K. Kol’tsov, Serebrovskii began working in his laboratory at the Shaniavskii Free Public University. There Kol’tsov was attempting to create the first Russian research center of experimental biology, encouraging each of his advanced students to specialize in a particular experimental field. Serebrovskii took up genetics, and in 1915 he published an article on the mutation theory of Hugo de Vries.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War I , Serebrovskii was mobilized into the Russian army and fought on several fronts until 1916, when he was injured while serving with the artillery in the Caucasus. In 1918 he returned to Moscow and worked briefly at the zoo. In 1919, with the outbreak of civil war and widespread urban famine, Kol’tsov secured a post for Serebrovskii as head of a poultry breeding station in the village of Slobodka, near his hometown of Tula. He served as assistant president of the Tula soviet from 1919 until 1921, when he returned to Moscow. There he worked for the rest of his life.
During the 1920’s, thanks largely to Kol’tsov’s patronage, Serebrovskii emerged as Russia’s most exciting and energetic young animal geneticist. In 1917 Kol’tsov created the Institute of Experimental Biology (IEB) and became its director; in 1919 he established experimental genetics stations under the Commissariat of Agriculture; in 1920 he founded the Russian Eugenics Society and became its president. Serebrovskii worked under Kol’tsov as head of a division at the IEB (1921–1927), as director of research at the Central Genetics Station at Anikovo (1921–1926) and then at Nazarevo (1926–1928), and as a member of the governing board of the Russian Eugenics Society. He also chaired the poultry de partment (renamed the genetics department) of the Moscow Zootechnical Institute (1923–1930).
Serebrovskii’s entrepreneurial energies and reformist temperament became engaged along a wide front. In 1921 he proposed that all mutations be renamed according to a new, “rational,” decimal system of his own devising, and he reiterated the proposal at the International Congress of Genetics in 1927. In 1923 he published a popular book on nature. During the next few years, he undertook wide-ranging and innovative studies on poultry, drosophila, and human genetics, and elaborated synthetic theories for which he coined many new terms, among them gene fund, “genogeography,” “genetic analysis,” and “step-allelomorphism.” He was much taken with Marxist philosophy of science and often chastised colleagues for not thinking “dialectically.”
In 1927 or 1928, perhaps because of growing political tensions with Kol’tsov, Serebrovskii left the Institute of Experimental Biology and its genetics station, and became increasingly involved in the Communist Academy and affiliated institutions, heading a genetics laboratory at the Timiriazev Biological Institute (1928–1932). He embraced the first Five-Year Plan with his characteristic enthusiasm and by 1930 had become a candidate member of the Communist Party. However, some of his philosophical and social positions proved too radical for party orthodoxy, and he never was promoted to full membership.
Nevertheless, at a time when efforts were under way to “Bolshevize” Russian scientific institutions. Serebrovskii was one of the few figures with prominence in both scientific and party circles. In 1930, following the arrest of Sergei Chetverikov and the breakup of Kol’tsov’s department, Serebrovskii was appointed chairman of Moscow University’s newly created department of genetics. The following year he became head of the division of genetics and selection at the All-Union Institute of Animal Breeding (VIZh) of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VASKhNIL). On 1 February 1933 Serebrovskii was elected corresponding member of the division of mathematical and natural sciences of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, in biology and genetics. In 1935 he was appointed a full member of VASKhNIL and became an audacious opponent of Lysenkoism. Its growth led to his separation from animal breeding research, but unlike most Soviet geneticists of comparable stature, he was never arrested. During his last decade, he was based at the department of genetics at Moscow University.
Poultry, Population Genetics, and Agriculture . From 1919 through the late 1930’s, Serebrovskii was deeply involved in Soviet agricultural research. His specialty was the genetics of poultry. In the early 1920’s he and his subordinates collected many breeds of chickens from central Russia and launched research to discover and map their genes. In a series of publications beginning in 1921, Serebrovskii explored the genetic basis of comb shape, feathering, coloration, weight, egg characteristics, fertility, and other traits. His poultry work was regularly published in both Russian and English, so it came to the attention of L. C. Dunn and other poultry geneticists in the West. During his career Serebrovskii published some twenty-five papers on the genetics of poultry, several of which were reprinted in 1976.
During the period 1922–1925, Sergei Chetverikov’s group at the Kol’tsov institute created population genetics, formulating a modern view of the evolutionary process and launching the earliest studies of the genetics of natural drosophila populations. Serebrovskii occasionally attended the group’s seminars and they apparently influenced his thinking: Chetverikov’s group conducted studies of natural drosophila populations from the Moscow area in the summer of 1925, and in late 1925 Chetverikov completed a classic paper that synthesized Darwinism and genetics. In early 1926 Serebrovskii criticized Lamarckian and autogenetic theories of evolution, arguing for a synthesis of Darwinism and genetics. In the summer of 1926, when Chetverikov’s group extended their studies to the wild fly populations of Dagestan, Serebrovskii began a comparable survey of the domesticated poultry of that region.
Serebrovskii first used the term genofond (gene fund) in a eugenic context, as part of his defense of genetics, at a meeting of the Communist Academy in early 1926. At an agricultural meeting in Leningrad in 1927, he generalized the concept in an important paper entitled “Genogeografiia i genofond sel’skokhoziaistvennykh zhivotnykh SSSR” (Genogeography and the gene fund of domesticated animals in the U.S.S.R.; 1928). Defining “gene fund” as “the sum total of hereditary assets, genes, of any group of organisms,” he set forth a research program for determining “what percentage of the gametes carry the given gene and what percentage do not carry it,” the former being the “concentration of the gene in the gene fund” (pp. 6-7). Serebrovskii defined “genogeography” as the “geographical distribution of the concentration of various genes” (pp. 8-9), and distinguished between distributional changes in the gene fund (resulting from diffusion and from human and animal migration) and transformationalchanges (resulting from natural selection, artificial selection, and mutation). In Serebrovskii’s view, distributional genogeography could supplement archaeology, since “the current geography of genes is the result of a lengthy historical process, and when we study what is written about history in the geographical distribution of the various genes, we will be able to reckon the detailed history not only of domestic livestock, but also of man” (p. 12). As for transformational genography, he stated categorically, “All evolution is in essence . . . the evolution of the gene fund” (p. 17).
In 1926 Serebrovskii and a group from the Moscow Zootechnical Institute conducted an extensive field study that established the frequencies of alleles at seventeen loci in poultry populations of small villages and settlements throughout the mountainous region of Dagestan. Subsequently he engaged in a follow-up study of the Dagestan populations (1929) that provided the first direct evidence of what Sewall Wright would later call genetic drift. In these and later studies, he developed and elaborated sophisticated mathematical and statistical techniques for analyzing the distribution and transformation of the gene funds of domesticated fowl.
In 1931 Serebrovskii was appointed head of the division of genetics and selection at VASKhNIL’s newly created All-Union Institute of Animal Breeding. There, he built up a genetic program of animal breeding and continued his own studies of the genetics and genogeography of fowl, extending his Dagestan work in parallel studies of populations in Kabardy and Balkaria (1935), and in Armenia (1935). He also pressed for the widescale application of Il’ia I. Ivanov’s techniques for the artificial insemination of horses and cattle, and worked to develop comparable techniques for poultry. The institute became VASKhNIL’s major center of animal research, and Serebrovskii was appointed a full member of that academy in 1935.
Drosophila and Gene Theory . In connection with his early work on poultry genetics, Serebrovskii became well acquainted with the publications of William Bateson and his presence-absence theory. In August 1922, when H. J. Muller visited the Kol’tsov institute and its Anikovo station, he gave them many mutant strains of Drosophila melanogaster developed by the Morgan school. As a poultry geneticist, Serebrovskii had no research experience with flies, but he threw himself into the study of the stocks with his characteristic enthusiasm. During the summer of 1924, working at Anikovo, he completed work on his first major paper on Drosophila, which was published in Russian in 1926 and in English the next year. The work analyzed the influence of different alleles of one gene on crossing-over between two other genes, noting that different map distances resulted. On this basis Serebrovskii advanced the view that the chromosomal theory of heredity was compatible with Bateson’s presence-absence theory, so long as one assumed that genes could be divided. A study undertaken at Anikovo in the summer of 1925 on other genes located at the end of the X chromosome produced similar results and was published in both Russian (1928) and English (1929).
In the 1920’s many Soviet Marxists felt that genetics was contrary to a materialist view of nature because of its concept of the immortal gene, subject only to rare, random, and generally harmful mutations, which rendered mankind impotent in controlling mutational change. Muller’s demonstration in 1927 that X rays are mutagenic seemed to Serebrovskii a key breakthrough. He published a sensational article on the discovery in Pravda, “Chetyre stranitsy, kotorye vzvolnovali nauchnyi mir” (Four pages that shook the scientific world—a title that played on John Reed’s famous account of the Bolshevik revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World). In late 1927 and early 1928 Serebrovskii replicated Muller’s results in his own laboratory. As a result his laboratory attracted a group of young Marxist biologists who became involved in his Drosophila work. This group included V. E. Al’tschuler, N. P. Dubinin, A. E. Gaisinovich, N. I. Shapiro, and B. N. Sidorov, as well as three Communist Party members: Izrail’ I. Agol, Solomon G. Levit, and Vasilii N. Slepkov.
In the period 1928–1932, on the basis of studies of the scute region at the end of the sex chromosome of Drosophila melanogaster, the group developed a theory of gene structure that they called “step-allelomorphism” (better known in Western literature as “step-alleltsm”). Using X rays to induce new mutations, the group discovered a series of alleles, each of which, they thought, controlled bristling in a specific region of the fly’s body. In four years many scute [sc] mutants were discovered and studied by Dubinin (sc2, sc3 sc7 sc10 Agol (sc4), Gaisinovich (sc5), Serebrovskii (sc6), Sidorov (sc8), Levit (sc9) and Shapiro (sc12). It was originally believed that the alleles could be mapped in a linear series, but subsequent mutants mapped as overlapping segments.
On this basis, Serebrovskii developed the notion that scute was a divisible “basigene” containing a series of overlapping sections or “subgenes” affecting slightly different areas, and that the mutations represented deletions of small segments. This theory of gene structure attracted international attention, but it was subsequently undermined by experiments, published in 1934 and 1935, by H. J. Muller and A. A. Prokof’eva at the Institute of Genetics in Moscow. Nonetheless, step-allelism involved one of the first systematic attempts to study gene structure using a kind of complementation mapping. Serebrovskii’s work on gene structure has been discussed by Carlson (1966, pp. 143–157) and Khesin (1972).
Eugenics and Human Genetics . From mid 1920 through early 1930, the Kol’tsov institute had a eugenics division that served as the organizational base for the Russian Eugenics Society, which was officially founded in November 1920. The utopian possibilities of eugenics for the human future appealed to Serebrovskii’s revolutionary temperament, and, beginning in 1921, he served on the society’s governing board. In the early 1920’s he published a piece on the inheritance of the tendency for multiple pregnancy (1921), a genealogical study of the prominent Aksakov family (1922), and a programmatic statement entitled “O zadachakh i putiakh antropogenetiki” (On the tasks and trends of anthropo-genetics: 1923) that called for the investigation of the genetics of human physical and mental traits in individuals, families, isolated human tribes, and the population at large.
In a paper presented to the natural science section of the Communist Academy on 12 January 1926, “Teoriia nasledstvennosti Morgana i Mendelia i marksisty” (Marxists and the theory of heredity of Morgan and Mendel), Serebrovskii gave special prominence to the prospects for eugenics under socialism. After arguing that modern genetics was both dialectical and materialist, he sought to depict it as a socially revolutionary science by focusing on its implications for human betterment. Urging the development of a truly socialist eugenics, he argued that “the totality of such genes, which create in human society talented outstanding individuals, or to the contrary idiots” constitute “a national treasure, a gene find from which the society draws its people,” even more important for the country than the genes of “wheat, cows, and horses which create the economic power of our country,” (pp. 115–116).
In late 1927 Serebrovskii converted Solomon Levit (a physician and party member) from Lamarckism to genetics, and in 1928 the two formed the Office of Human Heredity and Constitution within the Biomedical Institute of the Commissariat of Public Health. Its first publication opened with a remarkable article by Serebrovskii, “Antropogenetika i evgenika v sotsialisticheskom obshchestve” (Anthropogenetics and eugenics in a socialist society; 1929). In it Serebrovskii argued that “anthropogenetics”—the science of human heredity—was objective and independent of its social setting, but “eugenics”—the application of such knowledge to social policy—would depend on economics and class structure. Criticizing Western eugenics movements as extensions of oppressive capitalist systems, Serebrovskii asserted that the positive potentials of eugenics could be achieved only under socialism.
Serebrovskii then made clear what he thought Soviet socialist eugenics should be. Chastising the architects of the first Five-Year Plan because it discussed reserves of gas, oil, and minerals but “completely left out the tabulation of the biological quality of the population of the Soviet Union” (p. 7), he commented: “If we calculate how much effort, time, and money would be freed if we succeeded in cleansing our country’s population of various forms of hereditary ailments, then probably it would he possible to fulfill the Five-Year Plan in two-and a-half years (p. 12). He proposed “the widespread induction of conception by means of artificial insemination using recommended sperm,” estimating that given “the tremendous sperm-making capacity of men,” and “with the current state of artificial insemination technology (now widely used in horse and cattle breeding), one talented and valuable producer could have up to 1,000 or even up to 10,000 children. . . . In these conditions, human selection would make gigantic leaps forward. And various women and whole communes would then be proud . . . of their successes and achievements in this undoubtedly most astonishing field—the creation of new forms of human beings” (pp. 16–18).
Serebrovskii’s plan drew heavy criticism and was the subject of a scathing lampoon by Dem’ian Bednyi in the 4 June 1930 issue of Izvestiia. In the period 1929–1932 a new ideological party line was imposed that held the “biologization” of social phenomena to be one of the several unacceptable trends pejoratively branded “Menshevizing idealism.” Serebrovskii’s proposal was frequently cited as evidence that he was guilty of this ideological aberration. In 1930 Serebrovskii was a candidate member of the Communist Party, but as a result of this criticism, he was never elevated to full membership.
Not all the changes taking place during these turbulent years were adverse to Serebrovskii, however. The widespread replacement of “bourgeois experts” by “Red specialists” no doubt played a role in Serebrovskii’s appointment as chair of the Moscow University genetics department in 1930. The same year Levit, a party member, was appointed director of the Biomedical Institute, and the office he had founded with Serebrovskii was elevated to the status of a genetics division. Its second volume of research papers (1930) concluded with a detailed apology by Serebrovskii for some of his remarks the previous year in its first volume. In 1930 Serebrovskii’s wife, Raisa Isaakovna, joined the division’s staff. As the accusations of Serebrovskii’s “Menshevizing idealism” persisted, however, both he and his wife left the institute and did not contribute further to its publications.
Levit and Agol spent 1931 on Rockefeller grants in H. J. Muller’s laboratory at the zoology department of the University of Texas at Austin. Levit probably informed Muller of Serebrovskii’s views on socialist eugenics and human breeding at that time. In the spring of 1932, after Levit and Agol had returned home, Muller made his much-publicized break with the American eugenics movement in “The Dominance of Economics over Eugenics,” which reiterated much of Serebrovskii’s viewpoint and language. In the fall of 1932 Levit resumed directorship of the Biomedical Institute, which by 1935 had become the Maxim Gorky Institute of Medical Genetics.
In 1933 Muller came to Russia to head a laboratory in Vavilov’s Institute of Genetics, but he played an active role in Levit’s institute and consistently urged a program of positive socialist eugenics. In 1935 Muller incorporated Serebrovskii’s discredited breeding scheme, without attribution, into the final chapter of his book Out of the Night. Against Serebrovskii’s advice, Muller sent a copy of the book to Stalin in the spring of 1936, with a long letter urging him to implement a human breeding program. At the height of the purges, when genetics was under attack by Lysenkoists, this was a dangerous proposal. Muller managed to leave Russia on 9 March 1937. Agol, who had been arrested in December, was executed the next day. Levit was arrested in January 1938 and was probably shot later that spring. For reasons that are not clear, Serebrovskii was never arrested.
Lysenkoism . In 1936 Serebrovskii’s earlier eugenic proposals were used by the Lysenkoists as a way of discrediting him for reasons that had little to do with eugenics. Serebrovskii had to be discredited principally because he stood directly in the way of their takeover of Soviet agricultural research. Indeed, his career was a refutation of Lysenko’s central claims. In the mid 1930’s, the Lysenkoists argued that theirs was the only truly Marxist approach to heredity; but Serebrovskii was an active and devoted Marxist, with an important party following, who argued tirelessly that genetics was the only truly Marxist theory of heredity. The Lysenkoists sought to depict genetics as a reactionary science committed to the idealist concept of an immortal, indivisible, immaterial, and unchanging gene; but Serebrovskii’s own research on X-ray mutagenesis and gene structure had portrayed the gene as material, mutable, divisible, and ultimately controllable. Finally, Lysenkoists argued that geneticists had divorced themselves from agricultural practice and were incapable of aiding it; but Serebrovskii had been active in poultry work since 1919, had welcomed collectivization, and by the mid 1930’s was fully engaged in agricultural research.
Perhaps most important, Serebrovskii was an outspoken Marxist critic of Lysenko’s views and a persuasive defender of genetics who would not be intimidated. Having assailed Lamarckism in the 1920’s, Serebrovskii naturally found much to criticize in Lysenko’s theories and techniques. At public meetings in 1935 and 1936, he twice called Lysenko mrakobes—a pungent Russian expletive often translated as “obscurantist” but literally signifying “demon of darkness.”
At the VASKhNIL session in December 1936, the four featured speakers were Vavilov, Muller, Lysenko, and Serebrovskii, whose presentation, “Genetika i zhivotnovodstvo” (Genetics and animal breeding), cogently presented his progress in mobilizing the animal resources of the country. Although the agenda of the meeting was designed to promote compromise between the geneticists and Lysenko’s Michurinists, Serebrovskii continued his outspoken defense of genetics. His unusually candid summary put the matter directly:
Editors are asking whether they can publish books on genetics. The same position is being taken by several people here, and some who were connected with Serebrovskii and genetics in one way or another are panicking and thinking of abandoning Serebrovskii before it is too late. Such fainthearted comrades exist, but I myself am not fainthearted and do not put my faith in people who are. I believe that we will overcome our difficult position and demonstrate that our method gives results that are better, not worse, precisely because it is based on this genetic theory, a theory that permits the maximal mobilization of hereditary elements of animals that could not be mobilized by any other method. (Spornye voprosy, p.448).
However, Serebrovskii’s position at the meeting was inadvertently undermined by Muller’s insistent attempts to introduce human genetics into the agricultural discussion, despite direct political instructions not to do so. Once the topic had been broached, the Michurinists L. K. Greben,’ I. G. Eikhfel’d, I. I. Prezent, and others found Serebrovskii an especially apt target and castigated him for his earlier eugenic views. One remarked that Soviet women would never forgive him for his ideas on human breeding. On 27 December, the final day of the conference, Serebrovskii rose on a point of personal privilege and admitted that his 1929 article represented “a whole series of the crudest kind of political, anti-scientific, and anti-Marxist mistakes, which I now find painful to remember.”
Beginning in 1936, the Lysenkoists sought to discredit genetics by claiming that it led logically and inevitably to eugenics and fascism. The accusation was unjust. Indeed, Serebrovskii, Muller, Levit, Levin, and others involved in Soviet human genetics had been among the first to warn of the scientific inaccuracy and social danger of Nazi race biology. Yet this Lysenkoist tactic was ironically apt in one respect. Serebrovskii had portrayed his eugenic proposals as following logically from the science of genetics, from which they derived their legitimacy. It should hardly have surprised him, then, when the Lysenkoists used those discredited proposals to make genetics itself seem illegitimate. For example, in a special discussion of genetics in 1939 published in Under the Banner of Marxism, the Stalinist ideologue M. B. Mitin, addressing Serebrovskii, charged, “Your whole ‘gene fund,’ with its Five-Year Plan in two-and-a-half years, is a reactionary notion rooted in your mistaken theoretical position.” Nonetheless, despite the arrest of a number of his colleagues, the loss of his position at the VIZh, and repeated attacks on him in print, Serebrovskii continued his principled and outspoken defense of genetics and his sharp cirticism of Lysenko’s theories.
The Final Decade . Separated from an active role in Soviet animal breeding by Lysenko’s rise to power, Serebrovskii devoted himself to research, writing, and teaching, but he had difficulty publishing his work. In 1938 he developed a highly original method for the biological control of insect pests, using chromosomal translocations to produce sterile males for release in the wild. He managed to send a copy of a pioneering paper on this subject to Theodosius Dobzhansky in the United States, with a note explaining that the growth of Lysenkoism made it unlikely that the paper would be published in the Soviet Union. As it happened, in 1940 the paper was accepted and appeared in Zoologikheskii zhurnal, edited by Ivan I. Schmalhausen.
However, many other works by Serebrovskii, incuding two books, were not published. In 1939 he completed a synthetic and original monograph, Nekoforye problemy organicheskoi evoliutsii (Some problems of organic evolution), which depicted evolution as a dialectical, populational process governed by historical laws not reducible to those of physiology or chemistry. The work might well have been regarded as a classic of the evolutionary synthesis had its publication not been thwarted by the growth of Lysenkoism; it first appeared in print only in 1973. In the period 1939–1940 Serebrovskii developed genetic applications of techniques of mathematical analysis and managed to publish brief mathematical papers on the “signal method” and the “triangle method.” He also completed a mathematical book, Geneticheskii analiz (Genetic analysis), that analyzed qualitative and quantitative inheritance, including the foundations of population genetics, and set forth various methods of analysis, including path coefficients. However, this book was not published during his lifetime. In 1946, with the resurgence of genetics after the war, he reworked the book with the assistance of his wife Raisa, his student A. A. Malinovskii, M. V. Ignat’ev, and his former colleague M. M. Mestergazi. Serebrovskii’s preface for the book was dated 1 May 1948.
Eight weeks later, on 26 June 1948, Serebrovskii died of natural causes. Following a funeral procession, he was buried in a public ceremony at Novodevichi cemetery, where his many students and supporters spoke against Lysenkoism and called for the triumph of genetics. However, six weeks later, it was Lysenko who triumphed at the infamous August session of VASKhNIL by declaring that the Central Committee of the Communist Party (and, by implication, Stalin) had approved his theory.
Thus empowered, Lysenko’s supporters were free to conduct virulent attacks on Serebrovskii’s legacy. At a meeting of the presidium of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences on 24 August 1948, I. E. Glushchenko depicted the schools of Filipchenko and Koltsov (including Dobzhansky, Dubinin, and Timofeeff-Ressovsky) as fascist, paying special attention to Serebrovskii. After the sessions, the Minister of Education, S. V. Kaftanov, issued a pamphlet in an edition of 110,000 copies that quoted from Serebrovskiis 1929 article and asserted, “The propositions of Morganism-Mendelism led in our country, just as they did abroad, to eugenic ideas and the ideology of fascism” (Za bezrazdel’noe gospodstvo michurinskoi biologicheskoi nauki [For the undivided rule of Michurinist biological science], Moscow, 1948, p. 17). Throughout the period of Lysenko’s dominance over Soviet biology (1948-1964), Serebrovskii continued to be a favorite target of Michurinist propaganda. His wife survived this difficult time, and after 1965 she and his students arranged for the posthumous publication of many of his manuscripts.
Significance and Impact . The hallmark of Serebrovskii’s career was his synthetic approach to his science and his self-conscious attempts to effect the dialectical synthesis of opposites. An enthusiastic reformer, he developed his own Marxist approach to science and applied it to a wide range of theoretical, experimental, and practical problems. Some of these efforts ultimately proved to be mistaken. His work on gene structure sought to synthesize Bateson’s presence-absence theory with the chromosomal theory of the Morgan school, but it turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt at reductionism. His work on socialist eugenics sought to synthesize Morganist biological theory and Marxist social theory, but it proved out of keeping with the new ideologies and harsher realities of the 1930’s.
On the other hand, some of Serebrovskii’s other synthetic work was highly successful. His efforts to synthesize genetical “theory” with the social needs of “practice” led to highly original and useful work in poultry breeding, agriculture, and the biological control of insect pests whose potential applications were stymied only by the rising tide of Lysenkoism. His pioneering work in population genetics and evolutionary theory synthesized Darwinism and genetics, anticipating in important respects the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930’s and 1940’s and leading directly to some of Dubinin’s important contributions to population genetics in the 1930’s. Indeed, it is likely that the term “gene pool,” introduced by Dobzhansky in 1950, was a translation of Serebrovskii’s term “gene fund” (Adams, 1980). Finally, his field studies of domesticated fowl populations in isolated mountainous regions pioneered the use of biological data to supplement anthropology and archaeology in ways that are only now beginning to be realized.
Serebrovskii rose in prominence and visibility in the late 1920’s because he was one of the first important Soviet scientists to embrace Marxism. At the same time, he never let ideology affect his scientific judgement, and was outspoken and uncompromising in his defense of his science and his opposition to Lysenkoism, even when that stance put his life at risk. With the advent of Stalinism, much of Serebrovskii’s synthetic research program came to naught. Nonetheless, as a committed Marxist who also maintained his commitment to genetic science, he served as a model for his students and for a later generation of Soviet geneticists.
Perhaps his most lasting impact on Soviet science came through his extraordinary teaching career. During the last quarter century of his life, he helped to train a large school of geneticists, including I.I. Agol, S.I. Alikhanian, V.E. Al’tshuler, N.P. Dubinin, L.V. Ferri, S.M. Gershenson, Ia.L. Glembotskii, G. Himmel, O.A. Ivanova, R.B. Khesin, V.V. Khvostova, S.G. Levit, A.A. Malinovskii, S.G. Petrov, P.F. Rokitskii, V. V. Sakharov, N.I. Shapiro, B.N. Sidorov, V.N. Slepkov, N.B. Varshaver, and E.T. Vasina-Popova. Many of his students were responsible for keeping genetics alive in the Soviet Union during the Lysenko period and played a key role after 1965 in rebuilding the discipline.
I. Original Works. Serebrovskii published more than 120 works during his lifetime, many in English and German, and left some 30 unpublished manuscripts, including those of several books. For his earliest publications see “Vliianie temperatury na nabukhanie semian gorokha” (The influence of temperature on swelling of seeds in peas), in Uchenye zapiski Institute imeni Shaniavskogo, Trudy biologicheskoi laboratorü, I no. 1 (1951), 1–74; “Sovremennoe sostoianie teorii mutatsii” (The current status of the mutation theory), in Priroda, 1915, no. 10, 1239–1254; “Proekt desiatichnoi sistemy geneticheskoi simvoliki” (Proposal for a decimal system of genetic symbols), in Izvestiia instituta eksperimental’noi biologü, 1921, no. 1, 98–106; and Biologicheskie progulki (Biological walks; Petrograd, 1923; 2nd ed., Leningrad, 1946; 3rd ed., 1973).
For Serebrovskii’s work on eugenics and human genetics, see “O mendelirovanii mnogoplodiia u cheloveka” (On Mendelizing multiple pregnancy in humans), in Izvestüa instituta eksperimental’noi biologü, 1921, no. 1, 114–119; “Genealogiia roda Aksakovykh” (The genealogy of the Aksakov family), in Russkü evgenicheskü zhurnal, I , no. 1 (1922), 74–81; “O zadachakh i putiakh antropogenetiki” (On the tasks and trends of anthropogenetics), ibid., I , no. 2 (1923), 107–116; “Antropogenetika i evgenika v sotsialisticheskom obshchestve” (Anthropogenetics and eugenics in a socialist society), in S.G. Levit and A.S. Serebrovskü, eds., Trudy kabineta nasledstvennosti i konstitutsü cheloveka pri mediko-biologicheskom institute (Works of the Office of Human Heredity and Constitution of the Biomedical Institute), I (Leningrad, 1929) (supp. to Mediko-biologicheskii zhurnal, 1929, no. 5), 3–19; “Veroiatnyi sluchai nasledovaniia po tipu stseplennykh X-khromosom u cheloveka” (A likely case of inheritance of the double X-chromosome type in humans), ibid., 79–82, with S.G. Levit; “K voprosu o geneticheskom analize cheloveka” (On the genetic analysis of humans), In Mediko-biologicheskül zhurnal, 1930, no. 4–5, 321–328, with S. G. Levit; and “Pis’mo v Redaktsiiu” (To the editor), ibid., 447–448.
For Serebrovskii’s work on drosophila mutations and gene structure, see “Novye mutatsii u Drosophila melanogaster” (New mutations in Drosophila melanogaster), in Zhurnal eksperimentalno’l biologü, ser. A, 1 , no. 1–2 (1925), 75–91, with V. V. Sakharov; “Vliianie gena purple na krossingovermezhdu black i cinnabar u Drosophila melanogasier,” ibid., 2 , no. I (1926), 55–76 and no. 2–3, 77–100, published in English as “The Influence of the ’Purple’ Gene on the Crossing-over Between ‘Black’ and ‘Cinnabar’ in Drosophila melanogaster,” in Journal of Genetics, 18 , no. 2 (1927), 136–175;’ “Chetyre stranitsy, kotorye vzvolnovali nauchnyi mir” (Four pages that shook the scientific world), in Pravda, 11 September 1927, p. 5; “Poluchenie novykh nasledstvennykh svoistv rent-genovymi luchami” (The creation of new hereditary material with Roentgen rays), in Nauchnoe slovo, 1928, no. 1 , 34–48; “Poluchenie mutatsü rentgenovskimi luchami u Drosophila melanogaster”; (The induction of mutations in Drosophila melanogaster with Roentgen rays), in Zhurnal ekperimental’noi biologü, ser. A, 4 , no. 3–4 (1928), 161–180, with N. P. Dubinin, I. 1 . Agol V. N. Slepkov, and V. E. Al’tshutar; “Vliianie genov y, l, N, na krossingover v levom kontse polovoi khromosomy u Drosophila melanogaster, ibid., 4 , no. 1 (1928), 1–29, with L. V. Ferri and O. A. Ivanova, published in English as “On the Influence of Genes y, l, and N, on the Crossing-over Close to Their Loci in the Sex-Chromosome of Drosophila melanogaster,” in Journal of Genetics. 21 (1929), no. 2, 287–314, with O. A. Ivanova and Leo Ferry; “Problema gena” (Problem of the gene), in Pod znamenem marksizma, 1928, no. 9–10, 215–228; “A General Scheme for the Origin of Mutations,” in American Naturalist, 63 (July-August 1929). 374-378; “Iskusstvennoe poluchenie mutatsii i problema gena” (Artificial induction of mutations and the problem of the gene), in Uspeklhi eksperimental’noi biologü, ser. B, 8 , no. 4 (1929), 235–247, with N. P. Dubinin; “lssledovanie stupenchatogo allelomoritzma. IV. Transgenatsiia scute6 i sluchai ‘ne-allelomoritzma chlenov obshchei lestnitsy allelomorfov,” in Zhurnal eksperimentalnoi biologii, 6 , no. 2 (1930), 61–72, published in German as “Unlintersuchungen über TreppenaUelomorptusmus. IV . Transgenation scute-6 und ein Fall des “Nicht-Allelomorphismus” von GHedern einer Allelomorphenreihe bei Drosophila melanogaster,” in Wilhelm Roux’ Archivfur Entwicklungsmechanik der Organismen”, 122 , no. 1 (1930), 88–104; and “X-ray Experiments with Drosophila,” in Journal of Heredity, 21 , no. 6 (1930), 259–265, with N. P. Dubinin.
For his work on poultry genetics, see “Crossing-over Involving Three Sex-Linked Genes in Chickens, in American Naturalist, 56 (1922), 571–572; “Somatic Segregation in Domestic Fowl,” in Journal of Genetics, 16 , no. 1 (1925), 33–42; “On the Topography of the Sex Chromosome in Fowls,” ibid., 17 , no. 2 (1927), 211–216, with E. T. Vasin; “A Case of Close Autosomal Linkage in the Fowl,” in Journal of Heredity, 19 (1928), 305–306, with S. G. Petrov; and “Observations on Interspecific Hybrids of the Fowl,” in Journal of Genetics, 21 (1929), no. 3, 327–340.
For his works on evolution theory, genogeography, and population genetics, see “Khromozomy i mekhanizm evoliutsii” (Chromosomes and the mechanism of evolution), in Zhurnal eksperimental’noi biohgü, ser. B , 1925, no. 1, 49–75; “Teoriia nasledstvennosti Morgana i Mendelia i marksisty” (Marxists and the theory of heredity of Morgan and Mendel), in Pod znamenem marksizma, 1926, no. 3, 98–117; “Opyt kachestvennoi kharakteristiki protsessa organicheskoi evoliutsii” (Attempt to characterize qualitatively the process of organic evolution), in Estestvo-znanie i Marksizm, 1929, no, 2, 53–72; “Geneticheskii analiz populiatsii domashnikh kur gortsev Dagestana” (Genetic analysis of the populations of domesticated chickens in the mountains of Dagestan), in Zhurnal eksperimentalnoi biologü, ser. A. 3 (1927), no. 1–2, 62–124 and no. 3–4, 125–146; “Genogeografiia i genofond sel’skokhoziaistvennykh zhivotnykh SSSR” (Genogeo-graphy and the gene fund of agricultural animals in the USSR), in Natuhoe slovo, 1928, no. 9, 3–22; “Beitrag zur genetischen Geographie des Haushuhns in USSR,” in Zeitschrift für induktiv Abstammungs- und Verer-bungslehre, 46 (1928), 71–72; “Beitragzurgeographischen Genetik des Haushuhns in Sowjet-RuBland,” in Archiv für Geflugelkunde, 1929, no. 3 , 161–169; “Geneticheskii analiz” (Genetic analysis), in Bol’shaia sovetskaia en-tsiklopediia (Great Soviet encyclopedia), XV (1929), 202–206; “Problemy i metod genogeografii” (The problems and method of genogeography), in Trudy s’ezda po ge-netike, sefektsüi, i pfemennomu zhivatnovodstvu (Proceedinp of the congress on genetics, selection, and animal breeding), pt. 2 (Moscow, 1930), 71–86; “Genogeografiia domashnykh kur Kabardy i Balkarü” (The genogeography of domesticated fowl in Kabardy and Balkaria), in Uspekhi zootekhnicheskikh nauk, 1 (1935), no. 1 , 85–142; and “Genogeografiia kur Armenii” (Genogeography of chickens in Armenia), ibid., 1 , no. 3, 317–348.
For other work in the 1930’s see Gibridizatsüa zhivotnykh (Animal hybridization: Moscow, 1935); “Moi otvet kritikam” (My answer to the critics), in Problemy zhivot-novodstva, 1935, no. 6, 79–84; “Genetika i zhivotno–vodstvo” (Genetics and animal husbandry), in O. M. Targul’ian, ed Spornye voprosy genetiki i selektsü (Issues in genetics and selection; Moscow and Leningrad, 1937), 72–113 and 443–451; “Kafedra genetiki” (The genetics department), in Uchenye zapiski MGU, 53 , no. 4 (1940). Biologüa, 166–175: and “O novom vozmozhnom mctode bor’by s vrednymi nasekomymi” (On a possible new method for fighting harmful insects), in Zoologicheskii zhurnal, 19 , no. 4 (1940), 618–630.
Since the 1960’s a number of Serebrovskü’s works have been reprinted, and some previously unpublished manuscripts have appeared. See Klassiki sovetskoi genetiki 1920–1940 (Classics of Soviet genetics, 1920–1940; Leningrad, 1968), which reprints six of his papers. See also Serebrovskii, Selektsiia zhivotnykh i rastenii (The selection of animals and plants; Moscow, 1969); Geneticheskii analiz (Genetic analysis; Moscow, 1970); Teoreticheskie osno-vaniia translokatsionnogo metoda bor’by s vrednymi nasekomymi (The theoretical basis of the translocation method for fighting harmful insects; Moscow, 1971); Ne-kotorye problemy organicheskoi evoliutsii (Some problems of organic evolution; Moscow, 1973); and lzbrannye trudy po genetike i selektsii kur (Selected works on the genetics and selection of poultry; Moscow, 1976), which includes four previously unpublished manuscripts from the archives of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences.
II. Secondary Literature. For discussions in Russian, see R. B. Khesin, “Teoriia gena v rabotakh A. S. Serebrovskogo” (The theory of the gene in the works of Serebrovskii), in Priroda, 1972, no. 8, 16–27; P. F. Rokitskii and E. T. Vasina-Popova, “Razvitie genetiki sel’skokhoziaistvennykh zhivotnykh SSSR” (The development of the genetics of agricultural animals in the U.S.S.R.), in Istoriko-biologicheskie issledovaniia, VI (Moscow, 1978), 5–27; N. I. Shapiro. “Pamiati A. S. Serebrovskogo” (In memory of A. S. Serebrovskii), in Genetika, 1966, no. 9, 3-17, which includes a list of his publications and papers, and “Aleksandr Sergeevich Serebrovskii,” in Vydaiushchiesia sovetskie genetiki (Leading Soviet geneticists; Moscow, 1980), 57-68; E. T. Vasina-Popova, “Shkola genetiki zhivotnykh A. S. Serebrovskogo” (A. S. Serebrovskii’s school of animal genetics), in Genetika, 21 , no. 9 (1985), 1576–1584; and E. T. Vasina-Popova and Z. M. Kogan, “Posleslovie’ (Postscript), in Serebrovskii. lzbrannye trudy, 392–402. For a reevaluation of Serebrovski’s work by a Soviet Marxist philosopher, see I. T. Frolov, Genetika i dialektika (Genetics and dialectics; Moscow, 1968).
For discussions in English, see Mark B. Adams, “From ‘Gene Fund’ to ‘Gene Pool’: On the Evolution of Evolutionary Language,” in William Coleman and Camille Limoges, eds.. Studies in History of Biology, III (Baltimore and London, 1979), 241-285, and “Eugenics in Russia,” in Mark B. Adams, ed.. The Wellborn Science (New York, 1990), 153–216; and A. E. Gaissinovitch, “The Origins of Soviet Genetics and the Struggle with La-markism, 1922-1929,” Mark B. Adams, trans., in Journal of the History of Biology, 13 , no. 1 (1980), 1-51 See also the references to Serebrovskii in Elof Axel Carlson, The Gene: A Critical History (Philadelphia, 1966), and Genes, Radiation, and Society (Ithaca. N.Y., 1981); David Joravsky, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science, 1917–1932 (New York, 1961); and Zhores A. Medvedev, The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko, I. M. Lerner, trans. (New York, 1969).
Mark B. Adams