Aleksei Bakh

Bakh, Aleksei Nikolaevich

 

Born Mar. 5 (17), 1857, in Zolotonosha, Poltava Oblast; died May 13, 1946, in Moscow. Soviet scientist and revolutionary figure; academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (AN SSSR) (1929); Hero of Socialist Labor (1945). Founder of a school of Soviet biochemistry.

Bakh’s father was a technician. In 1875 Bakh entered the University of Kiev, from which he was expelled in 1878 for participation in student political activities. He was exiled to Belozersk for three years. When he returned to Kiev he entered the People’s Will organization. Beginning in 1883 he lived underground and did revolutionary work in Yaroslavl and Kazan. He gave lectures to the workers and popularized K. Marx’ economic teachings. On the basis of these lectures he wrote the book Hunger the Tsar (1883). After 1885 he lived as an émigré in France, the USA (1891–92), and Switzerland, and did scientific work. From 1905 to 1918, Bakh adhered to the Socialist Revolutionaries.

In 1917, Bakh returned to Russia. In 1918 he organized the Central Chemical Laboratory of the All-Russian Council of the National Economy of the RSFSR, which later became the L. Ia. Karpov Physicochemical Institute. Bakh was director of the institute until the end of his life. In 1920 he founded the Biochemical Institute of the People’s Commissariat of Health. In 1928 he became the head of the All-Union Association of Workers of Science and Engineering. In 1935, Bakh and A. I. Oparin organized the Institute of Biochemistry of the AN SSSR. Bakh was its director. (In 1944 the institute was named after him.) He was president of the D. I. Mendeleev All-Union Chemical Society (beginning in 1935). Between 1939 and 1945, Bakh was academician secretary of the Division of Chemical Sciences of the AN SSSR.

According to Bakh, the uniqueness of the living world in a chemical sense lies not so much in the peculiarities of its composition as in the diverse chemical transformations that are continuously going on in living organisms. Bakh’s attention was drawn to three basic problems of biochemistry: the chemism of carbon assimilation by green plants, which is the basis of the formation of organic substances in nature; the problem of oxidation processes that take place in the living cell, particularly the chemism of respiration; and the study of enzymes (enzymology). In his work on the assimilation of carbon dioxide by green plants, Bakh gave a new explanation of the nature of the formation of sugar in the process of carbon dioxide assimilation. He viewed the assimilation of carbon as a combined oxidation-reduction reaction that occurs by means of components of water. Proceeding from this point of view, he showed that the source of the molecular oxygen that is given off during assimilation is not carbon dioxide, as was formerly believed, but water.

Studying the role of peroxides that are formed during assimilation, Bakh arrived at a clarification of the nature of oxidation processes (1893–97). He gave final formulation to the peroxide theory of slow oxidation, according to which the energy necessary to activate molecular oxygen during spontaneous oxidation is supplied by the body being oxidized. These properties are possessed only by chemically unsaturated bodies that enter into interaction with the oxygen in the air and activate it. The activated oxygen interacts with the substance being oxidized and forms peroxide. The peroxide theory acquired special significance in the development of concepts on the chemism of respiration.

Bakh showed that oxidation is based on a series of enzyme oxidation and oxidation-reduction reactions that follow each other sequentially in a long chain of chemical transformations. He created new experimental methods for the investigation of enzymes. These methods are still used in both experimental and practical work at clinics, experimental stations, and factory laboratories. The results of Bakh’s work in enzymology are used in modern industrial biochemistry in the production of bread, beer, tea, and tobacco, in the retting of flax, in salting fish, and so forth.

Bakh was a deputy to the First Convocation of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. He won the Lenin Prize (1926) and the State Prize of the USSR (1941). Bakh was awarded four Orders of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.

WORKS

Sbornik izbrannykh trudov. Leningrad, 1937.
Zapiski narodovol’tsa, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1931.

REFERENCES

Aleksei Nikolaevich Bakh. Moscow, 1946.
Bakh, L. A., and A. I. Oparin. Aleksei Nikolaevich Bakh: Biographicheskii ocherk: K 100–letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia, 1857–1957. Moscow, 1957.

A. I. OPARIN