Дата публикации: 17 сентября 2021
Автор(ы): Yevgeniya SIDOROVA
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №2, 2011, C.53-57
Номер публикации: №1631881719

Yevgeniya SIDOROVA, (c)

by Yevgeniya SIDOROVA, journalist


The exhibition "Younger Sister of Genetics" was held at the Darwin Museum on November 19-December 20, 2010, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of foundation of the Russian Eugenics Society. This society existed only for 9 years, but became an important stage in the development of medical genetics in our country.


Today search for more effective methods for prevention of human hereditary diseases became an every-day work of specialists in various countries, while extracorporeal fertilization of women by the donor semen became quite a common medical practice. Hence, the social interest to Russian scientists specializing in eugenics, who worked during the period


when this problem for the first time attracted public attention, is justified. The significance of research carried out by outstanding scientists Nikolai Koltsov (author of the hypothesis on the molecular structure and matrix reproduction of chromosomes), Yuri Filipchenko (founder of the first in Russia Department of Genetics at the Leningrad State University), Alexander

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Serebrovsky (due to him the scientific trend of genogeography and the "gene pool" term appeared, disproving the concept of gene indivisibility) and their colleagues is obvious. However, the majority of our contemporaries know but little about their activities. Thus, the exhibition at the Darwin Museum is not only an educational project, but a tribute to the memory of talented people, whose contribution to Russian science cannot be overestimated.


At the seminar "The Dawn of Human Genetics" before the opening of the exhibition, RAS Corresponding Member Ilya Zakharov-Gezekhaus* from N. Vavilov Institute of General Genetics spoke about the origin of the almost forgotten scientific discipline. The term "eugenics" (from Greek "of good genus") was introduced by Francis Galton, a prominent English anthropologist and psychologist, in his paper "Hereditary Talent and Character" (1865), in which he for the first time presented the tasks of the new trend. In 1883, he wrote a book "Studies of Human Abilities and Their Development" and in 1904 formulated the bases of the science "studying all factors improving hereditary characteristics of a race". Galton and his followers proceeded from the natural selection theory by the great Charles Darwin and asserted that the resourceful mankind, which found methods for control of diseases leading to natural "rejection" of the weakest representatives of the species, in future would be at risk of degradation. Hence, methods for appropriate selection should be developed.


It is noteworthy that the first publications of Galton in eugenics were accompanied (in 1866) by an article in the Russian Antiques journal, written by Vasily Florinsky, Professor of Medico-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg entitled "Refinement and Degeneration of the Human Genus". The specialists think that his studies formed the base for medical genetics in our country, though his results became widely known only in the 20th century. It must be noted that the majority of the Russian scientists, starting from Florinsky, adhered to the so-called positive eugenics, promoting as a practical measure the encouragement of reproduction of humans with qualities valuable for society. The opposite position--pushing aside of those "unwanted" from reproduction--was fixed by laws in the Nazi Germany.


The greater part of documents exhibited at the Darwin Museum was borrowed from the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The head of the Archives Vitaly Afiani, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), and senior research assistant Nadezhda Osipova, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), took part in the seminar and told about the views of the founders of Russian Eugenic Society, their studies, and social activities aimed at popularization of the ideas of "human race improvement", later on perverted by false scientific and racist postulates and discredited.


In 1917, the Institute of Experimental Biology was opened in Moscow (now the RAS Institute of Biology of Development). The initiator of its creation and its first director was Nikolai Koltsov, an outstanding scientist, Corresponding Member of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1916, who organized the Department of Eugenics at the Institute. Similar laboratories and societies were created during the same period in Western Europe and the USA. The interest to this sphere of knowledge was increasing. The matter is that validation of the chromosome theory of heredity by Thomas Morgan, the US biologist, foreign honorary member of USSR AS (1932), made it obvious that all living creatures, including humans, have a principally resembling genetic system, which can be studied and findings can be practically used. Koltsov wrote: "...One of research goals of the Institute is to find methods of experimental influence of sex cells, which will help, by


See: Ye. Sidorova, "Meetings With Evolutionary Scientists", Science in Russia, No. 4. 2009.--Ed.

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means of changing mitosis*, provoke mutations of the organism." In 1920, Russian geneticists, headed by Koltsov, founded the Russian Eugenic Society.


The Bureau of the Society, in addition to its chairman and academic secretary Viktor Bunak, an outstanding anthropologist, included Tikhon Yudin, the founder of Russian clinical genetics of mental diseases, Dr. Sc. (Med.), Nikolai Bogoyavlensky, a well-known surgeon, and Alexander Serebrovsky, a geneticist, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1933. Their efforts were focused on studies of human pheno-and genotypes, accumulation of literary data indicating heredity of various characteristics throughout several generations, including some diseases (hemophilia, Down's syndrome, etc.). The data were collected by questionnaires, during special expeditions (for example, for ethnic studies of Mordovians, Maris, Don Cossacks, Jews).


The exhibition at the Darwin Museum presented just some of the eugenic questionnaires, for example, a family questionnaire on "reproduction", allowing to collect information about three generations of a family. The genealogical trees of great representatives of Russian culture, the writer Leo Tolstoy and poet Alexander Pushkin*, serve as a bright illustration of the inherited talent. Comprehensive studies of biographies and genealogical data on 150 Russian academicians were carried out by Russian eugenicists. They believed that the state should be particularly prudent as regards the brain workers as carriers of valuable genetic information. Here is what Koltsov wrote: "Preservation of active type representatives is absolutely valuable for genetics, irrespective of their current phenotypical style of thinking." Of course, this viewpoint did not conform to the class struggle idea, predominating during the Soviet period, when people having a different opinion were subjected to repression.


Meanwhile, the problems of genealogy, medicine, sociology were discussed in the Russian Eugenics Journal, published by the Society. Studies of genetics of


* Mitosis--division of an eukaryotic somatic cell nucleus with retention of chromosome number.--Ed.


See: V. Nepomnyashchy, "The Pushkin Phenomenon Through the Obvious". Science in Russia, No. 3. 1999.--Ed.

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mental characteristics of a personality, blood biochemistry were particularly important and fruitful. Affiliated departments of the Russian Eugenic Society opened later on in Leningrad, Kiev, Odessa, Saratov, the circle of its members was enlarged. Afiani noted that reading the archival documents, one could see a constellation of the "first names" of different scientific trends: Grigory Rossolimo, an outstanding Russian neuropathologist, Alexei Abrikosov, a physician, pathologist, Academician from 1939; Vladimir Sakharov, a geneticist, later a prominent specialist in chemical mutagenesis, etc. Nikolai Semashko, Peoples' Commissar of Public Health of the USSR and Academician of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR from 1944, also participated in the work of the Society. Eugenics "absorbed" constructive ideas from psychiatry, pedagogics. The sessions in Moscow were no longer held at the Institute of Experimental Biology, as its conference hall could not seat all those willing to participate, but at the House of Scientists in Prechistenka.


The new science became very popular among the educated people. Yevgeny Pchelov, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), from the Russian State Humanitarian University and Tatyana Tomashevich from the Research Institute and Museum of Anthropology of Lomonosov Moscow State University spoke about it at the seminar. The activities of the Russian Eugenic Society attracted the attention of the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky. Koltsov used the information he had received in the report "Family Histories of Our Outstanding People" (analysis of information about talented men of the people). The problem of human nature modification is a subject of "The Dog's Heart", a satirical story by Mikhail Bulgakov (1925), little known at that time and one of the most read authors today. Doctor Filipp Filippovich, the main character, asks a rhetorical question: "Explain, please, why should we artificially fabricate Spinozas if any female can give birth to him any time... the mankind takes care of it without us and throughout evolution every year steadily creates scores of outstanding figures, making life on the planet more interesting."


The influence of eugenic ideas on the general cultural context of the 1920s is illustrated by a quotation from the questionnaire "The Soviet Writer and October", belonging to the great Russian poet Ossip Mandel-shtam: "... I am deeply convinced that, though the writer depends on the correlation of social forces, modern science has no means of any kind to provoke emergence of this or that desirable writer. Under conditions of the embryonal state of eugenics, all kinds of cultural crossings and vaccinations can produce most unexpected results..."


In one of his publications of early 1920s, Koltsov called naive the sociologists' hypotheses on the possibility of ennobling humans by heightening their cultural level. However, in 1929 he wrote that "every child should have such conditions of upbringing and education that his specific hereditary features be most fully expressed in his phenotype..." By that time due to the development of genetics it became clear that hereditary characteristics of a human being, including the intellect, depend on the interactions between many genes, and the manifestation of this or that gene in the phenotype is conditioned by the environment of upbringing.


In the 1920s-1930s some postulates of negative eugenics were accepted at the government level in many countries (Canada, USA, Iceland, Germany, Denmark,

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Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia), in which sterilization programs were legalized for subjects considered for this or that reason "undesirable for society". The exhibition "Younger Sister of Genetics" showed that the maximum number of sterilization operations on humans were carried out in Germany-400,000 in 1933-1945, USA-100,000 in 1910-1935, and Sweden--63,000 in 1935-1976. Such transition from the academic stage of development of young science to experimental one disclosed unsolvable ethical problems arising in the society, which had resorted to artificial selection of this kind. When after World War II the mankind learned about experiments on humans in the Nazi Germany, carried out "for scientific purposes", eugenics in the society became associated with overall genocide.


However, the Russian Eugenic Society ceased its activities in 1929, long before these events, and further persecution of its members, prominent geneticists, was caused by destruction of the perspective research trend developed by them. Solomon Levit, heading the first in Russia Medico-Genetic Institute, was arrested and shot in 1938. He continued the studies started by Koltsov and his colleagues (different hereditary diseases). One of the most interesting exhibits was a complete text of the letter from the American geneticist Hermann Meller, Foreign Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, future (1946) Nobel Prize winner in physiology and medicine, which he sent in May, 1936, to Iosif Stalin, leader of the USSR in 1922-1953, in attempt to explain a necessity to develop genetics for the country's prosperity. Unfortunately, the goal was not attained.


It is a paradox, but many young visitors of the Darwin Museum learned for the first time about eugenics and what it meant, though today every civilized human being knows the achievements of neoeugenics. The organizers of the exhibition emphasized: this scientific trend does not promote the solution of state demographic problems, but is oriented to problems of private persons. There are six methods of human biotechnology known: artificial fertilization of a woman by donor semen; use of donor ovicells (when a child is brought forth by mother or "surrogate" mother); intrauterine testing of the fetus in order to find out whether there are serious reasons for abortion; selection of embryos for preimplantation genetic diagnostics; cloning of man; and gene engineering. The ethical nature of the first two methods is no longer doubted. The humaneness of methods according to which a fetus, not conforming to a certain "genetic norm", is rejected, is disputable.


At the end of the exhibition, the visitors were offered several questions of ethical nature: do they agree to the idea of limitation of interethnic marriages (the scientists calculated that the mean IQ coefficients, showing the intellectual level of a person, are different in representatives of different races); would they agree to abortion if intrauterine studies show that the future baby will have Down's syndrome; do they approve financial encouragement of individuals with high indicators of anthropometric testing, and some other questions. The organizers of the exhibition presented the following counter arguments in response to affirmative and negative answers: for example, a person expressing negative attitude to interethnic marriages, looked into the card with the word "yes" and found out that intellectual abilities were regulated by more than 1,000 genes (according to tentative estimates), while interrace marriages amplified the resources of hereditary changeability of the population and hence, were more likely useful than not.


The organizers of the exhibition "Younger Sister of Genetics" stated that one of their goals was to speak once more about the correlation of science and morality (their vectors often coincide) and to show that while adopting decisions on the problems linked with the fate of our posterity, it is sometimes not so easy to say "yes" or "no".



Опубликовано на Порталусе 17 сентября 2021 года

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