Shemiakin, Mikhail Mikhailovich

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(b. Moscow, Russia, 26 July 1908; d. Riga, Latvian U.S.S.R., 26 June 1970)

chemistry, biochemistry.

Shemiakin spent his childhood in Bolshevo, a suburb of Moscow, where he completed high school. In 1925 he entered the chemistry faculty of Moscow State University. Four years later, while still a student, he became a scientific worker at the Scientific Research Institute of Organic Intermediate Products and Dyes in Moscow; he continued to work there until 1935. Upon completion of his studies at the university in 1930, Shemiakin became an assistant at the Moscow Institute of Precision Chemical Technology (MIPCT). At first he devoted his attention primarily to the chemistry of synthetic pigments and intermediate products of their synthesis. However, he did not abandon his research on the chemistry of natural compounds. In the early 1930’s he began work on the hydrolytic and oxidative-hydrolytic transformations of organic compounds. During this work he turned his attention to the mechanisms of reactions and the stereochemistry of these reactions.

In 1935 Shemiakin was appointed senior lecturer at the MIPCT. He simultaneously was the senior scientist in the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry (of which he was director from 1939) of the All-Union Institute of Experimental Medicine in Moscow, where he worked until 1945. In 1937 he left MIPCT for the Moscow Textile Institute, where he was appointed senior lecturer.

Shemiakin received the candidate’s degree in 1938, and in 1941 he defended his dissertation, “Research in the Area of Aldehyde Acids and on a Number of Diphenylcyclobutanedicarboxylic Acids: Hydrolysis of Carbon Bonds,” at Moscow University for the doctorate in chemistry. In 1942 he became a full professor, chairing three departments at the Textile Institute: analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry.

In 1945 Shemiakin headed a section of the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Antibiotics and the laboratory at the Institute of Biological and Medical Chemistry of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the U.S.S.R. These two large institutes had just been organized in Moscow, and from this time, biochemical and bio-organic themes dominated Shemiakin’s research. His interest in the mechanisms of oxidative-hydrolytic reactions found expression in the general theory of the processes of pyridoxal catalysis, which he created with A. E. Braunstein in the period 1952 to 1953.

At the Institute of Antibiotics, as well as at the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., where Shemiakin headed the Laboratory of the Chemistry of Antibiotics from 1957 to 1959, he began his research devoted to the chemical and biological study of numerous antibiotics. During the war years he had evaluated the practical role and theoretical significance of antibiotics, and in 1945 he began his work on the chemistry of penicillin. In 1962, before both Derek Barton and Robert Woodward, he synthesized tetracycline. Shemiakin’s monograph Khimiia antibiotikov (Chemistry of antibiotic substances, 1949), written with A. S. Khokhlov, played a large role in the development of the chemistry of antibiotics in the Soviet Union and in other countries.

In 1958 Shemiakin was elected full member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. The next year he organized the Institute of the Chemistry of Natural Products of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. and became its first director (today it is called the M. M. Shemiakin Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry). The chemistry and biochemistry of proteins and peptides became the most important area of Shemiakin’s research. This work promoted the formation of bio-organic chemistry, a science of structural-functional interrelationships of biologically active substances. Shemiakin proposed a number of innovative ideas regarding the methodology of peptide synthesis and definition of the primary structure of peptides and proteins.

Shemiakin made a significant contribution to the chemistry of depsipeptides, a term he introduced in 1953 that became generally accepted. With Iu. A. Ovchinnikov, V. T. Ivanov, and others, he founded the chemistry of this very important class of natural compounds. On the basis of these investigations the function of cyclodepsipeptides as ionophores—the carriers of alkaline metals through the cell membrane—was clarified.

Throughout his scientific career Shemiakin worked with young scientists, founding a large scientific school and proving to be a major organizer of science. Among his students were Iu. A. Ovchinnikov, M. N. Kolosov, and V. T. Ivanov. Shemiakin participated in the work of various international organizations. He died suddenly in Riga, while serving as president of the Seventh International Symposium on the Chemistry of Natural Compounds.

In 1968 Shemiakin was elected member of the Academy Leopoldina (German Democratic Republic). His scientific and public activities were distinguished by the highest honor in the U.S.S.R.. the title of Hero of Socialist Labor (1969).


I. Original Works. Shemiakin wrote some 300 papers. Among his works are Hydrolytic Oxidation of Organic Substances (New York, 1959), with I. A. Shchukina; Khimiia antibiotikov (The Chemistry of Antibiotics), 3rd ed., 2 vols. (Moscow, 1961), with A. S. Khokhlov. M. N. Kolosov, L. D. Bergelson, and V. K. Antonov; and “The Chemistry of Natural Depsipeptides,” in Recent Developments in the Chemistry of Natural Carbon Compounds, 2 (1967), 1–46, with Iu. A. Ovchinnikov. An autobiographical account is in McGraw-Hill Modern Men of Science, II (New York, 1968), 492–494.

II. Secondary Literature. Mikhail Mikhatlovich Shemiakin, Materialy biobibliografii uchenykh SSSR, ser. khimicheskikh nauk, no. 65 (Moscow, 1978).

A. N. shamin