Vinogradsky, Sergey Nikolaevich

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(b. Kiev, Russia, 13 September 1856; d. Brie-Comte-Robert, France, 24 February 1953), microbiology.

Vinogradsky’s father, Nikolay Konstantinovich Vinogradsky, was a member of the State Council; his mother, Natalia Viktorovna Skoropadskaya, came from a noble family. In 1866 he entered the Kiev Gymnasium and in 1873 graduated with a gold medal. The same year Vinogradsky enrolled at the Law Faculty of Kiev University. After a month, however, he transferred to the natural sciences division of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty.

An interest in music led Vinogradsky to transfer to the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In 1877 however, he entered the natural sciences department of St. Petersburg University. He graduated in 1881 with the candidate of sciences degree and remained at the university to prepare for an academic career.

Vinogradsky was greatly influenced by Pasteur’s ideas and experimental research and, attracted by the great opportunities, decided to devote himself to the new science of microbiology. From 1881 to 1884 Vinogradsky did his first experimental work, a study of the influence of external conditions on the development of the fungus Mycoderma vini.

After receiving the master’s degree in 1884, Vinogradsky went in 1885 to Strasbourg, where he worked under Anton de Bary. In 1890 he moved to Zurich, where he did postgraduate study in chemistry for two years. From 1884 to 1889 Vinogradsky conducted research on the physiology and morphology of sulfur and iron bacteria, and then on nitrifying bacteria. This research brought him a wide reputation.

In 1890, Pasteur invited Vinogradsky to participate in the organization of a bacteriological laboratory at the institute he had established in Paris. In the same year the Institute of Experimental Medicine at St. Petersburg was completed, and in 1891 Vinogradsky became director of its section of general microbiology.

In 1902 he was named director of the entire institute. (He had to resign three years later, however, because of acute nephritis). In 1903. by a decision of the scientific council of Kharkov University. Vinogradsky received a doctorate in botany without defending a dissertation. In 1912 Vinogradsky moved to the Ukraine, where for ten years he scarcely worked at experimental microbiology, concentrating on the organization of research in land use and soil science.

In 1922 Vinogradsky accepted an invitation from E. Roux to become director of the division of agricultural microbiology of the Pasteur Institute, which built a laboratory for him near Paris.

Vinogradsky’s scientific and organizational work received international recognition. In 1894 he became a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; in 1902 the Adadémie des Sciences of France elected him a corresponding member; and the National Society of Horticulture of France elected him an active member. Vinogradsky founded the Society of Microbiology in 1903 and was its president for the first two years. In 1923 he was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.

Vinogradsky’s interest centered on complex questions of the physiology and morphology of microorganisms and the development of culture methods for saprophytic and pathogenic microbes. His most important studies concerned the morphological variability of microbes, the discovery of microbes’ capacity for chemosynthesis, and the creation and development of the bases for ecological and soil microbiology.

During the 1870’s and 1880’s there was much discussion concerning the variability of microorganisms; and two trends, monomorphism and polymorphism, were apparent. Sulfur and iron bacteria were the central objects of research. Vinogradsky was the first researcher to study the morphology of microbes not by investigating fixed preparations but by observing living, normally developed cells in a microculture developed in a drop suspended under a protective glass cover. Studying the culture of sulfur bacteria, which the polymorphist Friedrich Zopf had used to confirm his views, Vinogradsky discovered a mixture of microorganisms. On the basis of these observations he showed that sulfur and iron bacteria are characterized by a strict cycle of development and do not display chaotic variability, as the advocates of polymorphism had asserted. This significantly strengthened the position of monomorphism, which, for the end of the nineteenth century, was progressive. Vinogradsky never advocated the constancy of species, however, and repeatedly criticized the monomorphists.

The study of the morphology of sulfur bacteria and iron bacteria led Vinogradsky to investigate their physiology. He determined that the sulfur appears in the cells of sulfur bacteria through oxidation of hydrogen sulfide. Relating this fact to the energy metabolism of these bacteria, Vinogradsky presented the idea that the oxidation of hydrogen sulfide is analogous to the process of respiration, which provides the cell with its necessary energy. He called this phenomenon “mineral respiration,” or, in the terminology of the time (1922), anorgoxidation.

The theory of chemoautotrophic metabolism of substances received convincing proof in Vinogradsky’s research on the physiology of nitrifying bacteria. His new method of studying microorganisms—selective cultures—and the concept of chemoautotrophic feeding led to the solution of the problem that had been studied by many of Vinogradsky’s predecessors. Using a mineral medium without any organic substances. Vinogradsky obtained pure cultures of two autonomous stimulants of nitrification, Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter.

In his works on nitrification, Vinogradsky presented the theory of chemosynthesis as concrete and experimentally based. The chemosynthetic activity of nitrifying bacteria was shown by means of precise quantitative determinations of the relationship of oxidized nitrogen to the assimilated carbon. The discovery of chemosynthesis, an important event in nineteenth–century biological science, is still significant. New data have introduced only corrections and additions but have not changed its scientific basis.

The ecological approach to the study of micoorgansims living freely in nature helped Vinogradsky to obtain important data on the metabolism of nitrifying and cellulose–decomposing bacteria. Having created an amosphere of pure nitrogen, he became the first microbiologist to separate pure cultures of a new stimulant of anaerobic nitrogen fixation— Clostridium pastorianum. The study of the energy metabolism of this microbe helped to establish that it is the stimulant of soil–oxidizing fermentation.

The study of Azotobacter was a continuation of research on biological nitrogen fixation. Vinogradsky studied it in its natural habitats: soil or on plates of silicic acid gel.

In his work on symbiotic nitrogen fixation, Vinogradsky developed extremely accurate methods of chemical analysis that permitted him to collect nitrogen in quantities on the order of several micrograms. The use of this method led to the discovery of the formation of ammonia during the process of symbiotic nitrogen–fixation. Equally fruitful was the application of ecological research to cellulose–decomposing bacteria Using filter paper placed in a silicic acid gel and small particles of soil as the culture medium, Vinogradsky separated three types of cellulose–composing bacteria— Cytophaga, Cellvibrio, and Cellfalcicula.

Vinogradsky’s works provided a firm scientific base for the ecological approach to the study of soil microflora. His development of special methods for soil microbiology–direct study of cells in the soil, spontaneous culture in dense media, and microbe cultures in soils—were of fundamental importance in the development of that science.


I. Original Works. Vinogradsky’s writings include Krugovorot azota v prirode (“The Circulation of Nitrogen in Nature” ; Moscow. 1894); O roli mikrobov v obshchem Krugovorote zhizni (“On the Role of Microbes in the General Circulation of Life” ; St. Petersburg, 1897); “K morfologii organizmov protsessa obrazovznia selitry v pochve” (“On the Morphology of the Process of Organisms for Producing Niter in Soil”), in Arkhiv biologicheskikh nauk, 1 (1922); “sur la décomposition de la cellulose dans le sol,” in Comptes rendus … de l’Académie des sciences. 183 (1926), 691 – 694; “Sur la morphologie et l’oecologie des azotobacter,” in Annales de l’Institut Pasteur, 60 (1938), 351 – 400; and Mikrobilogia pochvy (“Microbiology of the Soil” ; Moscow, 1952), an anthology. These and other works can be found in Izbrannye trudy, 2 vols. (“Selected Works” ; Moscow, 1953).

II. Secondary Literature. On Vinogradsky and his work, see A. A. Imshenstsky, “Pamyati S. N. Vinogradskogo” (“Memories of Vinogradsky”), in Mikrobiologia, 22 , no. 5 (1953); and “Vinogradsky. K 100-letiyu so dnya rozhdenia” (“… on the Centenary of His Birth”), ibid., 26 , no. 1 (1957); M. M. Kononova, “S. N. Vinogradsky,” in Pochvovedenie (1953), no. 10; S. I. Kuznetsov, “Trudy vydayushchegosya russkogo mikrobiologa” (“Works of the Outstanding Russian Microbiologist”), in Pochvovedenie (1953), no. 10; S. I. Kuznetsov, “Trudy vydayushchegosya russkogo mikrobiologa” (“Works of the Outstanding Russian Microbiologist”), in Prirodo (May 1953), 119 – 120; D. M. Novogrudsky, “S. N. Vinogradsky. Pervy period deyatelnosti” (“…The First Period of His Activity”), in Mikrobiologia, 26 (1956); and V. L. Omelyansky, “S. N. Vinogradsky (po povodu 70-letia)” (“… on His Seventieth Birthday”), and “Zapiska ob uchenykh trudakh S. N. Vinogradskogo” (“Note on the Scientific Works of Vinogradsky”), in Izbrannye trudy.

V. Gutina