ISSN 1022-7954, Russian Journal of Genetics, 2006, Vol. 42, No. 8, pp. 954–955. © Pleiades Publishing, Inc., 2006.
Original Russian Text © the Editorial Board, 2006, published in Genetika, 2006, Vol. 42, No. 8, pp. 1151–1152.
This September marked 100 years from the birthday
of a prominent Soviet geneticist, doctor of biological
sciences, professor of Moscow State University,
Nikolai Iosifovich Shapiro.
Nikolai Shapiro was a student of N.K. Kol’tsov and
A.S. Serebrovsky. He worked with Serebrovsky for
many years, since 1928 through 1948, ﬁrst at the Labo-
ratory of Genetics of the Biological Institute, then at the
Department of genetics of Moscow State University,
where Shapiro conducted fruitful research and teaching
In these years, Shapiro started working in the new,
very important ﬁelds of science, radiation biology,
organizing in 1945 a corresponding laboratory at the
Institute of Roentgenology.
In June 1948, Shapiro brilliantly defended a doc-
toral dissertation on spontanweous and induced
However, two months after that, in August 1948, the
infamous VASKhNIL session took place. Shapiro’s dis-
sertation was not ratiﬁed, and he as a “Mendelist–Mor-
ganist” was dismissed from the Institute of Roentgenol-
ogy and from Moscow University. The degree of doctor
of sciences was conferred to Shapiro
summa cum laude
in 1961, and the title of professor, in 1964.
After August 1948, Shapiro completely switched to
radiobiological research in the Laboratory of Biophys-
ics of Isotopes and Radiation at the Biologcial Division
of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which was later
transformed into the Institute of Biophysics. In 1963,
he founded in the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy
(since 1978, Institute of Molecular Genetics), the Lab-
oratory of Somatic Cell Genetics, which was the ﬁrst in
the Soviet Union and one of the very few in the world.
There he worked till the end of his days.
Nikolai Shapiro is the author of about 250 scientiﬁc
works, performed on a vast variety of objects–from
and barley to mammalian cells and carcino-
genic viruses of mammals–with the use of ingenious
and ﬁne techniques.
The focus of Shapiro’s research interests was a funda-
mental problem of genetics, the problem of mutagenesis.
Shapiro has conducted studies on regularities of the
process of mutation. As early as in the 1930s, investi-
gating X-ray-induced mutagenesis, he demonstrated
that the leading role in determining radiation sensitivity
and mutation spectrum is played by the cell itself (its
genotype, stage of differentiation, etc.).
At the same time, Shapiro examined the regularities
of natural mutagenesis. One of his important ﬁndings
was the fact that the appearance of mutation is not
always related to chromosome replication. Based on
theoretical analysis, he substantiated (together with
M.V. Ignat’ev) the principal concept on mutation being
an adaptive trait of the species.
In the late 1950s–early 1960s, a new model, in vitro
cultures of mammal somatic cells, has been introduced
in biological research. Shapiro was the ﬁrst in our coun-
try who appreciated the potential of this new research
area. The creation of a team of highly qualiﬁed special-
ists in the somatic cell genetics is a great merit of
Comparison of mutability of individual genes in
somatic and germline cells per locus per generation
revealed striking similarity of the spontaneous muta-
tion rates. In both cases, the rate is approximately 10
. However, the rate of mutations appearing in
somatic cells in unit time proved to be many times
higher than the mutation rate in germline cells, i.e., the
generation length is inversely related to the spontane-
ous mutation rate per unit time. Apparently, natural
selection maintains in germline cells mutation rate at
To the 100th Anniversary of N. I. Shapiro