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Microbial Genetics in the USSR

Sigmund R. Suskind
The Quarterly Review of Biology
Vol. 35, No. 1 (Mar., 1960), pp. 41-79
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2816371
Page Count: 39
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Microbial Genetics in the USSR
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Abstract

A comprehensive review of Soviet microbial genetics during the period 1940-1958, but especially for the years 1950 through 1957, has been based on 297 translated abstracts and 284 full articles. One full paper and 57 abstracts in this total came from the scientific literature of the People's Democracies; the remainder were from the USSR. In addition, 456 titles or brief indicative abstracts were examined. The items covered were grouped into twelve major areas of subject matter, in some of which there was evidence of extensive work, in others of very little. The retarding influence of Lysenko and his group upon the development of genetics, and the almost equally restrictive influence of Lepeshinskaya's doctrine of the origin of cells from non-living matter, were widely evident. Work on Mutation, Adaptation, and Variation was scanty and inferior; but in the area of the Chemistry of Inheritance increased activity and interest are apparent. Drug Resistance and Antibiosis, because of practical outcomes, was an emphasized area; genetic methods are being used to screen for antibiotics. Sexual Recombination was a neglected area. Work on Growth, Cell Division and Cell Theory was strongly under the influence of the Lepeshinskaya school, but there were signs of sharp criticism of those views and an awakening interest in studies like those conducted in the West. Evolution and Ecology was an area dominated by the pro- and anti-Lysenkoist controversy. The effects of altered environments were widely studied; but the role of natural selection as a major factor was mentioned more frequently after 1954. Most papers on microbial Metabolism and Physiology had little orientation toward genetics, but there was some evidence of awakening interest in DNA, adaptive enzyme mechanisms, pure culture techniques, etc. Host-Parasite Relationships, Medical Microbiology, and Immunology make up an are that showed from 1955-56 on an increasing independence of Lysenko and Lepeshinskaya, as discussion, if not laboratory experimentation, focused on bacteriophage studies, the biochemistry of phage infection, and studies of plant and animal viruses. Some of the work in the field of Industrial Microbiology and Methodology also showed, after the mid-fifties, a departure from Michurin-Lysenko doctrine, and even inter- and intra-specific competition was thought to be involved in the production of useful varieties. On the whole the trends in the industrial laboratories closely reflected the progress and ideas in the microbiological laboratories devoted to basic research. Radiation Biology was a field in which the workers seemed thoroughly acquainted with the Western literature on the subject and were using a wide variety of up-to-date methods. In the category of Miscellaneous and General Microbiology the use of ultrasonic methods and great interest in soil microbiology were notable. Finally, History and Ideology represent an important element of the genetic microbiological picture, for reasons already given. The major trend was a decline from the mid-fifties of the once complete dominance of Lysenko and Lepeshinskaya. A more critical, better informed science is developing. A major defect in the scientific literature of USSR microbial genetics has been the characteristics tendency of workers to discus in general terms and draw sweeping conclusion without supplying either a sufficient account of the experimental methods they used or their quantitative data. Again, a trend toward a more critical, adequately documented presentation of scientific findings in apparent since the mid-fifties. Rapid progress is now being made in this field, and Soviet workers seem to be fully aware of the latest advances in microbial genetics which have been made elsewhere in recent years.

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