14 April 2008

In memory of Lev Kiselyov

Echo of Moscow radio station reported that on April 12, 2008, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the European Academy, a well-known molecular biologist, chairman of the Scientific Council of the Russian scientific program "Human Genome", editor-in-chief of the journal "Molecular Biology", head of the Laboratory of the Institute of Molecular Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences Lev Lvovich Kiselyov (1936-2008) died.

Colleagues of L.L. Kiselyov note that he was not only a remarkable scientist, the author of outstanding pioneering works in the field of studying the structure of tRNA, but also a wonderful person, a witty and friendly interlocutor, a reliable popularizer in his field of science. Director of the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor Nikolai Yankovsky noted that Kiselyov's death is a huge loss for Russian science.

Lev Kiselyov was known as one of the most ardent opponents of human cloning. During the discussion of the bill "On a temporary ban on human cloning" in 2001, he noted that such cloning would create the most serious social, ethical and legal problems. He explained his position not only by the fact that a cloned person will not have a family, but also by the fact that due to the imperfection of cloning techniques, there is a high probability of the appearance of a huge number of human freaks (and this was very strictly shown on animals). According to him, the people obtained during cloning would be the offspring of one person, not two people, as with the normal reproduction of any animals, including humans. Therefore, it would enormously impoverish the genetic fund. He stressed that "for me as a biologist, this idea is unnatural and absolutely alien. The whole evolution is built on the connection of different genomes, only then there is diversity. If you repeat the same genome, you repeat, firstly, all the defects that are there, and you do not get any new qualities."

He also said that when cloning a human, it would be necessary to cull a human by a human: "The human community allows animals to be culled if they do not satisfy certain qualities. This is a centuries-old practice of mankind, the culling of unproductive animals, what is done in conventional breeding, in conventional agriculture and it does not contradict the human psyche, human ethical standards. For a person, culling a person is an absolutely unacceptable thing. And it will be inevitable if you take the point of view that a person can be cloned."

However, L. Kiselyov believed that it was necessary to very clearly separate "scientific tasks solved within the framework of strict stem cell science and human cloning." According to him, working with stem cells has nothing to do with cloning homo sapiens. He also stressed the importance of the development of prenatal diagnostics in Russia, the creation of special diagnostic centers that would help future parents to know what their offspring is waiting for them.

L. Kiselyov played a huge role in the creation and promotion of the Russian national program "Human Genome", which began in the USSR in 1988. Its initiator, academician Alexander Baev (1904-1994) managed to get the support of the project from the then head of the country Mikhail Gorbachev. The main objectives of the Program were physical and functional mapping of the human genome, development of molecular diagnostics of hereditary and malignant diseases, computer analysis of the genome (bioinformatics), search for new human genes and identification of their function.

The fate of the program was not easy. As L. Kiselyov noted, "in the first two years [of its existence], significant funds were allocated for the purchase of the latest equipment and the creation of research groups. We received $20 million, a certain number of millions of rubles. Americans at the very beginning received the same amount for their research. And the beginning of work on the human genome was synchronous in the USA and the USSR. But in 1991 we had a complete collapse of funding. And the scientific council on the genome, which was led by Baev, and then by me [since 1994], came to the conclusion that we cannot participate in this global research race on an equal footing with such new, beggarly funding. That would be suicide. We decided to develop other areas of genomics and achieved very good results. In short, we have reoriented the Russian program to important, but more modest tasks, and it has developed extremely successfully within this new framework."

As the academician emphasized in an interview with the magazine "Results" (2000), even meager material and technical capabilities made it possible to find and solve the most interesting scientific problems. "The decoding of genomes has transformed molecular biology from a science with a constant shortage of factual data into a science suffering from an abundance of them. There was a need to somehow comprehend this mountain of billions of nucleotides. So a new science was born – bioinformatics."

Colleagues note that, by a bitter irony of fate, Lev Lvovich Kiselyov died of cancer, the very disease that his father, an outstanding Soviet scientist, virologist, author of the hypothesis about the viral genetic origin of malignant tumors, Lev Alexandrovich Zilber, devoted many years to studying.

The farewell ceremony with L.L. Kiselyov will take place on Tuesday, April 15, at 10-30, in the Ritual Hall of the new building of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Leninsky Ave., 32-A, metro station "Leninsky Prospekt").

<url>Photo from the website of Novaya Gazeta.

Found a typo? Select it and press ctrl + enter Print version