Alexander Ivanovich Oparin – Chairman of the Board of the All-Union “Znanie” Society (1951-1956)


Alexander Ivanovich Oparin (1894-1980) was a Soviet biologist and biochemist,
Theorist who created the theory of origin of life on Earth from abiotic components; member of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1946; corresponding member since 1939), Hero of Socialist Labor (1969); Chairman of the Board of the All-Union Society “Znanie” (1951-1956).

He was born on February 18 (March 2), 1894 in the town of Uglich in a merchant family. Among the information about the childhood years of A.I. Oparin is mentioned that he soon moved with his parents to the village of Kokayevo (not far from Uglich)[4]. In the family also grew up his older brother Dmitry, the future Russian and Soviet economist.

He graduated from the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium in 1912 and in 1917 graduated from the Natural Department of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of Moscow State University. In 1925 he started to give a course of lectures “Chemical Bases of Life Processes” at MSU; in 1931 he gave a course on technical biochemistry. In 1930-1931 he was a professor at the department of technical biochemistry of the Moscow Institute of Chemical Technology and the department of technical biochemistry at the Moscow Institute of Grain and Flour Technology.

In 1934, without defending his thesis, he was approved for the title of Doctor of Biological Sciences.

From the beginning of 1935, the Institute of Biochemistry of the USSR Academy of Sciences, founded by Oparin together with A. N. Bakh, began its work. From the very foundation of the Institute, Oparin headed the Laboratory of Enzymology, which was later transformed into the Laboratory of Evolutionary Biochemistry and Subcellular Structures. Until 1946 he was deputy director, and after the death of A. N. Bakh, he became the director of the Institute.

On May 3, 1924 at the meeting of Russian Botanical Society he made a report “On Emergence of Life”, in which he proposed the theory of origin of life from the primary “broth” of organic substances. In the middle of the 20th century, complex organic substances were experimentally obtained by passing electric charges through a mixture of gases and vapors, which hypothetically coincided with the composition of the atmosphere of the ancient Earth. Oparin considered coacervates, organic structures surrounded by fatty membranes, as protocells.

From 1942 to 1960 Oparin was the head of the Department of Plant Biochemistry of the Moscow State University where he gave lectures on general and technical biochemistry, special courses on enzymology and on the origin of life.

After the death of S. I. Vavilov in 1951 A. I. Oparin became the 2nd Chairman of the Board of the All-Union Educational Society “Znanie”. He remained in this position until 1956, when M. B. Mitin was elected Chairman of Znanie.

In 1970, the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life was organized, of which Oparin was elected first president and then honorary president. In 1977 the ISSOL Executive Committee instituted the Oparin Gold Medal, awarded for the most important experimental research in this field.

He died on April 21, 1980. He is buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.