1062-3604/02/3302- $27.00 © 2002
Russian Journal of Developmental Biology, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2002, pp. 127–129. Translated from Ontogenez, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2002, pp. 153–160.
Original Russian Text Copyright © 2002 by the Editorial Board.
Reply to the Comments of L.V. Beloussov
“Genes and Morphogenetic Fields”
L. I. Korochkin
Institute of Biology of the Gene and Institute of Developmental Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences
I read with great interest the comments of the
embryologist L.V. Beloussov, whom I regard highly, to
Vvedenie v genetiku razvitiya
Developmental Genetics) (Moscow: Nauka, 1999) and
express my gratitude for the warm words said about my
book at the outset.
Most comments concern, however, the consider-
ations about morphogenetic ﬁelds and are critical. I
must say at once that these critical comments do not
hit the mark, since my view almost fully coincides
with the considerations expressed by L.V. Beloussov.
I have never denied and do not deny the role of mor-
phogenetic ﬁelds in development. However, I believe
that the morphogenetic ﬁeld is formed on the basis of
two factors: (1) internal properties of the cells deter-
mined by their molecular-genetic constellations
(mutations are known that change these properties)
and (2) cell interactions, which are not also devoid of
genetic control (mutations are known which affect
such interactions). In other words, the morphoge-
netic ﬁeld is
in the developing
system, rather than “hovering” above it, it is a certain
external (with respect to the developing system) bio-
logical ﬁeld with speciﬁc biological properties,
which seems to be molded from the form of passive
By the way, I would like to stress that I do not object
to the search for a speciﬁc, unique, “biological ﬁeld”,
certainly using adequate methods. And if the existence
of such a ﬁeld is proved, I am ready to recognize it.
However, so far, either unfortunately or fortunately, I
do not ﬁnd any grounds for such a recognition.
L.V. Beloussov states that nobody has postulated the
presence of such a ﬁeld. Let us look, however, at what
our outstanding biologist A.G. Gurwitsch wrote (by the
way, I have never denied his merits): “The participation
of each cell in embryogenesis is determined by the
common, for a large cell complex (a rudiment of any
system or the entire organism), and indivisible factor,
rather than by the properties of the cell itself or its inter-
actions with the neighboring cells” (Gurwitsch, 1977,
p. 154). “We assumed that the conﬁguration of a given
rudiment before its
realization had been preformed dynamically (dynami-
cally preformed morph) and played the role of a ﬁeld
source…” (Gurwitsch, 1977, p. 157). “The ﬁeld
sources are, in some cases, conceived inside the object
of effect (embryonic rudiment) and, in others,
(my emphasis—L.K.) (Gurwitsch, 1977, p. 167). “I
believe that the cell ﬁeld is a factor which determines
the appearance and behavior of constellations (molecu-
lar—L.K.)” (Gurwitsch, 1977, p. 234).
It turns out that speciﬁc morphogenetic processes
determine the corresponding molecular-genetic events,
rather than speciﬁc molecular-genetic events determin-
ing morphogenesis. This contradicts the data of modern
developmental biology, according to which, for exam-
, the genes responsible for segmenta-
tion are activated long before the beginning of morpho-
genetic processes leading to the formation of segments.
If we compare the statements cited here, all this
resembles Aristotle’s entelechy (which, by the way, I do
not consider especially sinful). Perhaps, I did not
understand this correctly? However, other biologists
assess Gurwitsch’s views in a similar way.
Blyakher (1962, p. 188) even believed that Gur-
witsch enveloped his theory in an idealistic form.
Another well known biologist, Z.S. Katsnel’son, wrote:
“We cannot reciprocate the initial methodological posi-
tions of Gurwitsch based on a very complicated vitalis-
tic concept” (Katsnel’son, 1939, p. 213).
But perhaps these authors only paid their debts to
the time? Nevertheless, that is what we see now, after
“perestroika”. While considering the embryonic ﬁelds,
Yu.G. Simakov discussed the views of different
authors: “According to Weiss and Gurwitsch, the ﬁeld
does not have standard physicochemical characteristics
(i.e., is a certain new, speciﬁcally biological ﬁeld—
L.K.). Gurwitsch called it a biological ﬁeld. Contrari-
wise, N.K. Kol’tsov believed that the ﬁeld responsible
for the integrity of a developing organism consisted of
standard physical ﬁelds (Simakov, 1986, p. 133).
According to Gurwitsch, the ﬁeld directs the forma-
tive elements “like the magnetic ﬁeld orients iron ﬁll-
ings” (Istoriya biologii, 1975, p. 323), i.e., the morpho-
genetic ﬁeld is considered in a given context as “some-
thing external with respect to the organism, on which it
acts”. I cannot accept such a concept of a morphoge-
“If the postulation of entelechy led Driesch to
agnosticism, denial of research activity, or Gurwitsch,
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