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Russian Journal of Genetics, Vol. 39, No. 4, 2003, pp. 471–477. Translated from Genetika, Vol. 39, No. 4, 2003, pp. 575–582.
Original Russian Text Copyright © 2003 by Bogdanov.
Aleksandra Alekseevna Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya, a
world-renowned cytogeneticist and excellent teacher,
made a great contribution to the study of the organiza-
tion of eukaryotic chromosomes. She founded the
Soviet schools of human cytogenetics and medical
cytogenetics remaining the leading cytogeneticist in the
Soviet Union for several decades. Prokofyeva-Bel-
govskaya’s great role in the development of genetics in
the Soviet Union in the period of ﬂourishing of this sci-
ence and its rebirth after the repressive reign of Lysen-
koism is unquestionable.
Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya was born in the town of
Aleksandrov (Vladimir province) on March 26, 1903.
She spent her childhood in the Luga district of the
St. Petersburg province (her mother’s homeland) and in
the working-class area of St. Petersburg (which was in
that period called Petrograd). In 1923, Prokofyeva-Bel-
govskaya graduated from the Petrograd Institute of
People’s Education and worked as a teacher in schools
of Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was called then) for
several years. She showed herself a talented teacher and
was esteemed by and popular with “difﬁcult” teenagers
of the poor industrial outskirts.
Simultaneously with her work at school, Prokofyeva-
Belgovskaya studied, beginning from 1923, at the Natu-
ral Science Department of the Faculty of Physics and
Mathematics of Leningrad State University, where she
specialized in genetics and experimental zoology.
Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya graduated from the university in
1930. Many of her university professors were outstanding
scientists; these were, e.g., Yu.A. Filipchenko, G.A. Lev-
itskii, I.I. Sokolov, S.G. Navashin, M.S. Navashin, and
When a student, Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya per-
formed a large-scale cytological study on mitosis and
meiosis in insects [1, 2]. In 1930, Academician
Navashin invited her to work at the Laboratory of
Cytology of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet
Union (Leningrad). Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya, on
Navashin’s instructions, studied the structure of
metaphase chromosomes of the salmon, trout, and
and found that the rule earlier established
by Navashin for plants (according to which the threads
of the division spindle never attach to the telomeres of
chromosomes) held true for animals too. Strictly speak-
ing, there are no telocentric chromosomes; there is always
a second, if short, chromosome arm, so that a chromo-
some may be acrocentric but not telocentric [3–6].
In 1931, Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya started working
at the Laboratory of Genetics of the Academy of Sci-
ences of the Soviet Union, which was headed by
N.I. Vavilov. In 1933, the laboratory was reorganized to
become the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sci-
ences of the Soviet Union. In 1935, the institute was
transferred to Moscow, and Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya
also moved there.
In the fall of 1933 began a four-year period of
Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya’s fruitful collaboration with
world’s leading geneticists C.B. Bridges and H.J. Muller.
On Vavilov’s invitation, Bridges spent four months in the
Institute of Genetics and taught Prokofyeva-Bel-
govskaya the methods used in studies on polytene chro-
and the principles of the cyto-
logical and genetic mapping of these chromosomes.
Muller came to the Soviet Union (also on Vavilov’s
invitation) together with his family in late 1933 after his
two-year visit to the laboratory headed by N.V. Timofe-
eff-Ressovsky in Berlin. Muller headed the Laboratory
of Gene and Mutagenesis of the Institute of Genetics
from 1934 to 1937. Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya worked in
close collaboration with Muller; they coauthored seven
studies on the cytogenetics of
Aleksandra Alekseevna Prokofyeva-Belgovskaya (1903–1984)
and Her Contribution to Cytogenetics:
On the 100th Anniversary of Her Birth