molecular biology

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molecular biology,

scientific study of the molecular basis of life processes, including cellular respiration, excretion, and reproduction. The term molecular biology was coined in 1938 by Warren WeaverWeaver, Warren,
1894–1978, American scientist, b. Reedsburg, Wis., grad. Univ. of Wisconsin. He taught mathematics at Wisconsin (1920–32), was director of the division of natural sciences at the Rockefeller Institute (1932–55), and was science consultant
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, then director of the natural sciences program at the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1950 W. T. Astbury of the Univ. of Leeds used the term in its now accepted sense, to describe the area of research, closely related to and often overlapping biochemistry, conducted by biologists whose approach to and interest in biology are principally at the molecular level of organization. The field of molecular biology has grown with the increasing sophistication of available techniques and has quickly built upon its own increases in the understanding of biological processes. In the 1930s, with the help of the technique of ultracentrifugation, the macromoleculesmacromolecule,
term that may refer either to a crystal such as a diamond, in which the atoms are identical and held by covalent bonds (see chemical bond) of equal strength, or to one of the units that compose a polymer.
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 were first studied in detail and their crystalline properties described. In the 1940s the process by which individual genes produce their unique products began to be understood as resulting from the different sequences of the base pairs that make up the genes. In the 1950s Linus PaulingPauling, Linus Carl
, 1901–94, American chemist, b. Portland, Oreg. He was one of the few recipients of two Nobel Prizes, winning the chemistry award in 1954 and the peace prize in 1962.
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 described the three-dimensional structure of proteins, and James WatsonWatson, James Dewey,
1928–, American biologist and educator, b. Chicago, Ill., grad. Univ. of Chicago, 1947, Ph.D. Univ. of Indiana, 1950. With F. H. C. Crick he began (1951) research on the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) at the Cavendish Laboratory at
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 and Francis CrickCrick, Francis Harry Compton,
1916–2004, English scientist, grad. University College, London, and Caius College, Cambridge. Crick was trained as a physicist, and from 1940 to 1947 he served as a scientist in the admiralty, where he designed circuitry for naval mines.
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 described the double helix of the DNA molecule. Further advances were made in understanding DNA, protein, and virus synthesis and the regulation of genes, and by the 1970s, the techniques of genetic engineeringgenetic engineering,
the use of various methods to manipulate the DNA (genetic material) of cells to change hereditary traits or produce biological products. The techniques include the use of hybridomas (hybrids of rapidly multiplying cancer cells and of cells that make a
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 were enabling molecular biologists to study higher plants and animals, opening up the possibility of manipulating plant and animal genes to achieve greater agricultural productivity. Such techniques also opened the way for the development of gene therapygene therapy,
the use of genes and the techniques of genetic engineering in the treatment of a genetic disorder or chronic disease. There are many techniques of gene therapy, all of them still in experimental stages.
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See A. Darbre, Introduction to Practical Molecular Biology (1988).

Molecular biology

The study of structural and functional properties of biological systems, pursued within the context of understanding the roles of the various molecules in living cells and the relationship between them. Molecular biology has its roots in biophysics, genetics, and biochemistry. A prime focus of the field has been the molecular basis of genetics, and with the demonstration in the mid-1940s that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the genetic material, emphasis has been on structure, organization, and regulation of genes. Initially, molecular biologists restricted their studies to bacterial and viral systems, largely because of their genetic and biochemical simplicity. Escherichia coli has been extensively examined because of its limited number of cellular functions and the corresponding restricted amount of genetic information encoded in the bacterial chromosome. Simple eukaryotic cells, such as protozoa and yeast, offer similar advantages and also have been studied. For these same reasons, bacteriophage and animal viruses have provided molecular biologists with the ability to study the structural and functional properties of molecules in intact cells. However, a series of conceptual and technological developments occurred rapidly during the late 1970s that permitted molecular biologists to approach a broad spectrum of plant and animal cells with experimental techniques. One of the major factors has been the development and applications of genetic engineering. Recombinant DNA technology allowed the isolation and selective modification of specific genes, thereby reducing both their structural and functional complexity and facilitating the study of gene expression in higher cells. The concepts and techniques used by molecular biologists have been rapidly and effectively employed to resolve numerous cellular, biological, and biochemical problems—becoming routine at both the basic and applied levels.

The recognition of DNA as the genetic material coupled with the discovery that genes reside in chromosomes resulted in an intensive effort to map genes to specific chromosomes. Initially genes were assigned to chromosomes on the basis of correlations between modifications in cellular function, particularly biochemical defects, and the addition, loss, or modification of specific chromosomes. See Chromosome aberration, Mutation

A major breakthrough was the development of somatic cell genetics. This is an approach in which, for example, human and hamster cells are fused, resulting in a hybrid cell initially containing the complement of human and hamster chromosomes. As the cells grow and divide in culture, the hamster chromosomes are retained while there is a progressive loss of human chromosomes. By correlating the loss of human biological or biochemical traits with the loss of specific human chromosomes, a number of human genes have been successfully mapped. See Somatic cell genetics

The development of methods for isolating genes and for determining the genetic sequences of the DNA in which the genes are encoded, led to rapid advances in gene mapping at several levels of resolution. Localization of specific genes to chromosomes is routinely carried out with cloned genes as probes. Further information about the segment of a chromosome in which a specific gene resides can be obtained by directly determining the DNA sequences of both the gene itself and the surrounding region.

Chromosome localization of specific genes has numerous applications at both the basic and clinical levels. At the basic level, knowledge of the positions of various genes provides insight into potentially functional relationships. At the clinical level, chromosome aberrations are now routinely used in prenatal diagnosis of an extensive series of human genetic disorders, and several chromosomal modifications have been linked to specific types of cancer. Knowledge of genetic defects at the molecular level has permitted the development of diagnostic procedures that in some instances, such as sickle cell anemia, are based on a single nucleotide change in the DNA.

Recombinant DNA

Recombinant DNA technology has provided molecular biology with an extremely powerful tool. In broad terms, applications of recombinant DNA technology can be divided into four areas—biomedical, basic biological, agricultural, and industrial. Biomedical applications include the elucidation of the cellular and molecular bases of a broad spectrum of diseases, as well as both diagnostic and therapeutic applications in clinical medicine.

In a strictly formal sense, the term recombinant DNA designates the joining or recombination of DNA segments. However, in practice, recombinant DNA has been applied to a series of molecular manipulations whereby segments of DNA are rearranged, added, deleted, or introduced into the genomes of other cells.

The ability to manipulate or “engineer” genetic sequences is based on several developments.

1. Methods for breaking and rejoining DNA. The precise breaking and rejoining of DNA has been made possible by the discovery of restriction endonucleases, enzymes that have the ability to recognize specific DNA sequences and to cleave the double helix precisely at these sites. Also important are the ability to join fragments of DNA together with the enzyme DNA ligase, and the techniques to determine the nucleotide sequence of genes and thereby confirm the identity and location of structural and regulatory sequences.

2. Carriers for genetic sequences. Bacterial plasmids, that is, circular double-stranded DNA molecules that replicate extrachromosomally, have been modified so that they can serve as efficient carriers for segments of DNA, complete genes, regions of genes, or sequences contained within several different genes. Bacteriophage and animal viruses, retroviruses, and bovine papilloma virus have also been successfully utilized as DNA carriers. These carriers are referred to as cloning vectors. Host cells in which vectors containing cloned genes can replicate range from bacteria to numerous other cells, including normal, transformed, and malignant human cells.

3. Introduction of recombinant DNA molecules. Genetic sequences in the form of isolated DNA fragments, or chromosomes, or of DNA molecules cloned in plasmid vectors can be introduced into host cells by a procedure referred to as transfection or DNA-mediated gene transfer—a technique that renders the cell membrane permeable by a brief treatment with calcium phosphate, thereby facilitating DNA uptake. Genes cloned in viruses can also be introduced by infection of host cells.

4. Selection of cells containing cloned sequences. Bacterial cells containing plasmids with cloned genes can be detected by selective resistance or sensitivity to antibiotics. In addition, the presence of introduced genes in bacterial, plant, or animal cells can be assayed by a procedure known as nucleic acid hybridization.

5. Amplification. Amplification of genetic sequences cloned in bacterial plasmids is efficiently achieved by treatment of host cells with antibiotics which suppress replication of the bacterial chromosome, yet do not interfere with replication of the plasmid with its cloned gene. Sequences cloned in bacterial or animal viruses are often amplified by virtue of the ability of the virus to replicate preferentially. See Gene amplification

6. Expression. Expression of cloned human genes can be mediated by regulatory sequences derived from the natural gene, from exogenous genes, or by host cell sequences.

Two clinically important genes, human insulin and human growth hormone, have been cloned and introduced into bacteria under conditions where biologically active hormones can be produced.

Progress has been made in applications of recombinant DNA technology to the resolution of agricultural problems, especially for the improvement of both crops and livestock. See Adenohypophysis hormone, Breeding (animal), Breeding (plant), Genetic engineering, Insulin

Biophysical analysis

Understanding of the structural properties of molecules and the interaction between molecules that constitute biologically important complexes has been facilitated by biophysical analysis. For example, developments in the resolution offered by techniques such as electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and neutron scattering have provided valuable insight into the structure of chromatin, the protein-DNA complex which constitutes the genome of eukaryotic cells. These techniques have also provided clues about modifications in chromatin structure that accompany functional changes. One possible application of biophysical analysis is the diagnosis of human disorders by adaptation of nuclear magnetic resonance for tissue and whole body evaluation of soft tissue tumors, blood flow, and cardiac function.

Flow of molecular information

Information for all cellular activities is encoded in DNA; selective elaboration of this information is prerequisite to meeting both structural and biochemical requirements of the cell. In this regard, there are three major areas of investigations by molecular biologists: (1) the composition, structure, and organization of chromatin, the protein-DNA molecular complex in which genetic information is encoded and packaged; (2) the molecular events associated with the expression of genetically encoded information so that specific cellular biochemical requirements can be met; and (3) the molecular signals that trigger the expression of specific genes and the types of communication and feedback operative to monitor and mediate gene control. See Chromosome, Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), Gene, Genetic code, Nucleic acid

Molecular Biology


the science that studies the nature of life processes by investigating biological objects and systems on a level that approaches the molecular or on the molecular level itself. Its ultimate purpose is to discover how and to what extent such characteristic manifestations of life as heredity, reproduction, biosynthesis of proteins, excitation, growth and development, storage and transfer of information, energy conversion, and mobility are determined by the molecular structure, properties, and interactions of biologically important substances, primarily of the two principal classes of macro-molecular biopolymers—proteins and nucleic acids. A distinctive feature of molecular biology is the study of life processes in nonliving objects or objects with the most primitive manifestations of life. These include biological formations from the cellular level on down: first subcellular organelles, such as isolated cell nuclei, mitochondria, ribosomes, chromosomes, and cell membranes; then, systems that are on the boundary between living and nonliving objects—viruses, including bacteriophages; and, finally, molecules of nucleic acids and proteins, the most important components of living matter.

Molecular biology is a new branch of natural science and is closely linked with such long-established disciplines as biochemistry, biophysics, and bioorganic chemistry. Demarcation of the boundaries is possible only on the basis of method and theoretical nature of approach.

Molecular biology grew out of such sciences as genetics, biochemistry, and the physiology of elementary processes. In the early stages of its development, molecular biology was inseparable from molecular genetics, which continues to be an important part of molecular biology, although to a considerable degree molecular genetics has become an independent discipline. The separation of molecular biology from biochemistry was dictated by the following considerations. The problems of biochemistry are mainly limited to establishing the participation of given chemical substances in certain biological functions and processes and explaining the nature of the conversions of the substances; of major importance is the existing information on reactivity and on the basic features of chemical structure, which is expressed by the usual chemical formula. Thus, in essence, attention is focused on the conversions that affect the primary-valency chemical bonds. Meanwhile, as was emphasized by L. Pauling, the single most important factor in biological systems and manifestations of active life is the type of bond, this being not the primary-valency bonds that act within a single molecule but the various bonds that determine intermolecular interactions, such as electrostatic, van der Waals, and hydrogen bonds.

The end result of a biochemical study can be represented as a system of chemical equations; such a system is usually entirely reduced to the representation of the equations in a plane—that is, in two dimensions. A distinctive feature of molecular biology is that it is three dimensional. According to M. Perutz, the essence of molecular biology lies in interpreting biological functions in terms of concepts of molecular structure. One might say that if in studying biological objects it was previously necessary to answer the question What?—that is, which substances are present—and the question Where?—in which tissues and organs —then molecular biology must answer the questions How? by studying the role and participation of the entire structure of the molecule and Why? and What for? by discovering the connections between the properties of the molecule (again, primarily, of proteins and nucleic acids) and the functions it performs, on the one hand, and the role of certain such functions in the sum total of life processes, on the other.

The relative positions of atoms and groupings of atoms in the general structure of the macromolecule and the spatial interrelations of these atoms and groupings assume a decisive role. This pertains to individual components as well as to the general configuration of the molecule as a whole. It is precisely as a result of a strictly determined three-dimensional structure that the molecules of biopolymers acquire properties by virtue of which they are capable of serving as the material basis for biological functions. Such a theoretical approach to the study of living matter is the most characteristic feature of molecular biology.

History. The enormous significance of studying biological problems on the molecular level was foreseen by I. P. Pavlov, who spoke of the final stage in the science of life, the physiology of the living molecule. The term “molecular biology” itself was first used by the British scientist W. Astbury in reference to research on the relationships between the molecular structure and the physical and biological properties of fibrillar proteins, such as collagen, blood fibrin, and the contractile proteins of the muscles. The term “molecular biology” became widespread in the early 1950’s.

The year 1953 marks the emergence of molecular biology as a full-fledged science; in that year, in Cambridge (Great Britain), J. Watson and F. Crick discovered the three-dimensional structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This made it possible to understand how the components of a given structure determine the biological functions of DNA as the material carrier of genetic information. Theoretically, this role of DNA became known somewhat earlier (1944) as a result of the work of the American geneticist O. T. Avery and his associates, but it was not known to what degree a given function depends on the molecular structure of DNA. This became possible only after new principles of X-ray diffraction analysis were developed by W. L. Bragg, J. Bernal, and others, making this method available for the detailed study of the spatial structures of protein and nucleic-acid macromolecules.

Levels of molecular organization. In 1957, J. Kendrew established the three-dimensional structure of myoglobin, and in subsequent years Perutz did the same for hemoglobin. Ideas about the various levels of spatial organization of macromolecules were formulated. The primary structure is the sequence of separate units (monomers) in the chain of the formed polymer molecule. The monomers of proteins are amino acids; those of nucleic acids are nucleotides. As a result of the hydrogen bonds, the linear, filamentous biopolymer molecule has the capacity to position itself in space in a definite shape—for example, in the case of proteins, as Pauling showed, to assume the shape of a spiral, or helix. This is called the secondary structure. When a molecule that has a secondary structure folds over itself in filling three-dimensional space, we speak of its tertiary structure. Finally, molecules with tertiary structure may begin to interact, distributing themselves in space in a regular manner in relation to each other and forming what is known as the quaternary structure; its separate components are usually called subunits.

The most graphic example of how three-dimensional molecular structure determines the biological functions of the molecule is DNA. It has the structure of a double helix: Two strands, going in opposite directions (antiparallel), are coiled about each other, with complementary distribution of bases—that is, in such a manner that opposite a certain base of one chain there lies on the other chain a base that best assures the formation of hydrogen bonds; adenine is paired with thymine, and guanine with cytosine. Such a structure creates optimal conditions for the most important biological functions of DNA—the quantitative multiplication and the qualitative immutability of genetic information during cell division. When the cell divides, the strands of the double helix of DNA, which serves as a matrix, or template, unwind and a new, complementary, strand is synthesized on each strand under the action of enzymes. As a result, instead of one mother DNA molecule, there are now two daughter molecules that are absolutely identical to it.

In the case of hemoglobin, it has also become apparent that its biological function—the capacity to reversibly pick up oxygen in the lungs and then release it to the tissues—is closely linked to the characteristics of the three-dimensional structure of hemoglobin and the changes occurring in that structure as hemoglobin fulfills its assigned physiological role. During the linking and dissociation of O2, spatial changes occur in the conformation of the hemoglobin molecule; this leads to a change in the affinity of the iron atoms in hemoglobin for oxygen. Because the changes in the dimensions of the hemoglobin molecule resemble the changes in the volume of the thorax during respiration, hemoglobin is sometimes referred to as “molecular lungs.”

One of the most important features of living things is their capacity to subtly regulate all life processes. The discovery of the allosteric effect, a previously unknown regulatory mechanism, must be considered an important contribution of molecular biology to science. The effect consists in the capacity of substances of low molecular weight, known as ligands, to alter specific biological functions of macromolecules, primarily of catalytic proteins—enzymes, hemoglobin, and receptor proteins—which participate in the structuring of biological membranes, in synaptic transmission, and so on.

Three biotic streams. In view of the concepts of molecular biology, the aggregate of life processes may be regarded as the result of a combination of three fluxes: (1) the flux of matter, which is expressed in the phenomena of metabolism, that is, assimilation and dissimilation; (2) the energy flux, which is the moving force of all life processes; and (3) the information flux, which permeates not only all the developmental processes and the existence of each organism but also the unending succession of generations. It is the very concept of the information flux, introduced into the life sciences by molecular biology, that has uniquely influenced this discipline.

Major achievements. The impetus, range, and depth of molecular biology’s influence on the study of basic problems in the life sciences may be justifiably compared to the role of quantum theory in the development of atomic physics. Two intrinsically related conditions have determined its revolutionizing effect. On the one hand, of major import was the discovery that it is possible to study the most important life processes under the simplest conditions, approaching those of chemical and physical experiments. On the other hand, as a result of this discovery, a significant number of researchers in the exact sciences—physicists, chemists, crystallographers, and even mathematicians— were rapidly drawn into the study of biological problems. These circumstances determined the unusually rapid development of molecular biology and the extent and significance of results achieved in only two decades.

A far from complete list of achievements in molecular biology includes the discovery of the structure and mechanism of the biological function of DNA and of all types of RNA and ribosomes; the discovery of the genetic code and of reverse transcription—that is, the synthesis of DNA on the matrix of RNA; the study of the mechanisms of the functioning of respiratory pigments; the discovery of three-dimensional structure and its functional role in the action of enzymes; the discovery of the principle of matrix synthesis and the mechanisms of protein biosynthesis; and the discovery of the structures of viruses and their mechanisms of replication. Other achievements include the discovery of the primary and, partially, the spatial structures of antibodies; the isolation of individual genes; the chemical and biological (enzyme) synthesis of a gene, including a human gene in vitro; the transfer of genes from one organism to another, including transfer to human cells; rapid progress in deciphering the chemical structures of a growing number of individual proteins, chiefly enzymes, and nucleic acids; and the discovery of the phenomena associated with “self-assembly” of certain biological objects of ever-increasing complexity, from nucleic-acid molecules to multicomponent enzymes, viruses, and ribosomes. Molecular biology has also elucidated allosteric and other basic principles of regulating biological functions and processes.

Reductionism and integration. Molecular biology is the final stage in the theory of studying living matter known as “reductionism”—that is, the attempt to reduce complex life functions to phenomena that occur on the molecular level and are therefore accessible to study by the methods of physics and chemistry. The progress achieved in molecular biology attests to the efficacy of such an approach. At the same time, it is necessary to take into account that under natural conditions in the cell, tissues, organs, and entire organism, we are dealing with systems of increasing complexity. Such systems are formed from components of a lower level by the systematic integration of the components into wholes that acquire a structural and functional organization and thus new properties. Consequently, as detailed knowledge of regularities accessible to elucidation on the molecular and adjacent levels increases, molecular biology faces the task of studying the mechanisms of integration as the next step in the study of life processes. The starting point here is the study of the forces of intermolecular interactions, for example, hydrogen bonds, van der Waals forces, and electrostatic forces. In their totality and in their spatial distribution, these interactions form what may be called “integrative information,” which may be properly regarded as one of the main components of the previously mentioned information flux.

The phenomena associated with the self-assembly of complex formations from mixtures of their component parts are examples of integration in molecular biology. This category also includes the formation of multicomponent proteins from their subunits, the formation of viruses from their components—proteins and nucleic acids—and the reconstitution of the initial structure of ribosomes after separation of their protein and nucleic components. The study of these phenomena is directly connected to the investigation of the basic phenomena of “recognition” in biopolymer molecules. The problem consists in determining which combinations of amino acids—in protein or nucleotide molecules—in nucleic acids interacting in the processes of association of individual molecules, resulting in the formation of complexes of strictly specific and previously specified composition and structure. This category includes (1) the processes of formation of complex proteins from their subunits, (2) the selective interaction among the molecules of nucleic acids—for example, between transport and matrix molecules (in this case, the discovery of the genetic code has substantially broadened our information); and (3) the formation of many structures (for instance, ribosomes, viruses, and chromosomes) in which both proteins and nucleic acids participate. The discovery of the corresponding principles and study of the “language” that is the basis of these interactions constitute one of the most important fields of molecular biology still to be developed. This field poses one of the fundamental problems of the entire biosphere.

Future research. Along with the important tasks of molecular biology indicated above (study of the principles of “recognition,” self-assembly, and integration), scientific research in the near future will be directed at developing methods that will make it possible to decipher the structure and the three-dimensional spatial organization of macromolecular nucleic acids. Currently, this has been achieved for the general scheme of the three-dimensional structure of DNA (the double helix) but without precise knowledge of its primary structure. Owing to the rapid development of analytical methods, we can expect to attain the indicated goals within the next few years. Major contributions toward achieving these goals are being made by the allied sciences, primarily physics and chemistry. All the major methods that brought about the emergence and advances of molecular biology were developed by physicists (ultracentrifugation, X-ray diffraction analysis, electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance). The vast majority of new physical experimental approaches (for example, the use of computers; synchrotron radiation, or bremsstrahlung; and laser technology) provide new possibilities for detailed investigations of problems in molecular biology.

One of the most important practical problems that molecular biology is expected to provide answers for is the molecular basis of malignant growth. It is hoped that molecular biology will also discover ways of preventing and perhaps conquering genetic, or “molecular,” diseases and will elucidate the molecular basis of biological catalysis—that is, the action of enzymes. Two problems that are now of great interest to molecular biology are the deciphering of the molecular mechanisms of the action of hormones and toxic and therapeutic substances and the elucidation of details of the molecular structure and function of such cell structures as biological membranes, which help regulate penetration and transport of substances. Distant future goals of molecular biology include the elucidation of the nature of nerve processes and memory mechanisms.

An important, recently developed branch of molecular biology is genetic engineering, or the purposeful operation of the genetic apparatus (the genome) of living organisms, from microbes and lower (unicellular) organisms to man (in the case of man, primarily for the radical treatment of genetic diseases and correction of genetic defects). The question of more extensive interference in the human genetic basis can be raised only in the more distant future, since this problem faces serious obstacles, both technical and moral. In regard to microbes, plants, and, possibly, agricultural animals, such prospects are extremely encouraging (for example, development of varieties of cultivated plants that have an apparatus for fixing atmospheric nitrogen and do not need fertilizer). They are based on present achievements: isolation and synthesis of genes, transfer of genes from one organism to another, and the use of mass cell cultures to produce economically or medically important substances.

Organization of research. The rapid development of molecular biology has resulted in a large number of specialized research centers. The most important ones in Great Britain are the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge and the Royal Institute in London; in France, the Pasteur Institute and the institutes of molecular biology in Paris, Marseille, and Strasbourg; in the USA, the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda and the departments of molecular biology at universities and institutes in Boston (Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), San Francisco (Berkeley), Los Angeles (California Institute of Technology), and New York (Rockefeller University); in the Federal Republic of Germany, various institutes of the Max Planck Society and the universities of Gottingen and Munich; in Sweden, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; in the German Democratic Republic, the Central Institute of Molecular Biology in Berlin and the institutes in Jena and Halle; and in Hungary, the Biology Center in Szeged.

In the USSR, the first specialized institute of molecular biology was established in Moscow in 1957 within the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Institute of Molecular Biology). Among the institutions that were formed later are the Institute of Bio-Organic Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Moscow, the Institute of Protein in Pushchino, the biology department at the Institute of Atomic Energy in Moscow, departments of molecular biology in the institutes of the Siberian division of the Academy of Sciences at Novosibirsk, the Interdepartmental Laboratory of Bio-Organic Chemistry at Moscow State University, and the section (later an institute) of molecular biology and genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in Kiev. Important work in molecular biology is conducted at the Institute of Macromolecular Compounds in Leningrad, in a number of divisions and laboratories of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, and in other departments.

Along with research centers, there have emerged organizations of broader range. In Western Europe, there is the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), with participating scientists from more than ten countries. In the USSR, a scientific council on molecular biology was established at the Institute of Molecular Biology in 1966; the council serves as a coordinating and organizing center. It has published an extensive series of monographs on the most important topics of molecular biology, regularly organizes “winter schools,” and conducts conferences and symposia on current problems. Scientific councils on molecular biology have also been established at the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR and at many academies of sciences of the Union republics. The journal Molekuliarnaia biologiia (six issues annually) has been published since 1966.

In a comparatively short time, a large number of researchers in molecular biology have emerged in the USSR. They are scientists of the older generation who have partially transferred their interests from other fields; many, however, are young researchers. Leading scientists actively involved in the establishment and development of molecular biology in the USSR include A. A. Baev, A. N. Belozerskii, A. E. Braunshtein, Iu. A. Ovchinnikov, A. S. Spirin, M. M. Shemiakin, and V. A. Engel’gardt. The decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR (May 1974)“On Measures to Accelerate Development of Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics and to Use Their Achievements in the National Economy” will foster new achievements in molecular biology and molecular genetics.


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molecular biology

That part of biology which attempts to interpret biological events in terms of the physicochemical properties of molecules in a cell.
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