Contribution of the Outstanding Russian Scientist Ilya Mechnikov to The Development of Embryology, Bacteriology and Immunology

  • Authors: Ulyanova A.V.1, Selikhova E.A.1
  • Affiliations:
    1. Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N.Burdenko
  • Pages: 217-220
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The article presents a comprehensive review of the contribution of the outstanding Russian scientist Ilya Mechnikov in the field of embryology, bacteriology and immunology. Mechnikov is best known for his pioneering research on the role of phagocytes in immunity, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1908. However, his contributions to embryology, especially his work on the development of the nervous system in invertebrates, have also had a significant impact on this field. In addition, Mechnikov's research on the role of microorganisms in diseases and his development of new methods for studying bacteria helped create bacteriology as a separate discipline. In general, this article highlights Mechnikov's interdisciplinary approach to scientific research and the long-term impact of his work on modern biology.

Full Text

Ilya Mechnikov was one of the most outstanding scientists of his time, who made significant contributions to a number of fields, including embryology, bacteriology and immunology [1]. His work in the field of embryology and bacteriology was equally innovative and had a lasting impact on modern biology. In this article, we examine in detail Ilya Mechnikov's contribution to these fields, emphasizing his interdisciplinary approach to scientific research and his role in creating key research areas. By studying Mechnikov's work, we can better understand the development of modern biology and how scientific disciplines have intersected and influenced each other over time [2].
The aim is to give a comprehensive overview of Ilya Mechnikov's contribution in the field of embryology, bacteriology and immunology. By studying his pioneering research in these fields, we aim to shed light on the interdisciplinary nature of scientific research and how different fields of research influenced and informed each other, to demonstrate the long-term impact of Mechnikov's work on modern biology and to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in scientific research.
Materials and methods: general methods of scientific research, analytical method.
The main part.
The outstanding Russian scientist Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov was born on May 15, 1845 in the village of Ivanovka in the Kharkiv region, and ended his life in Paris on July 15, 1916. The ashes of the star of national and international microbiology, embryology and immunology after the cremation of the body were placed in the library of the Pasteur Institute. This was the last will of Ilya Mechnikov, who left the earthly world at the 72nd year of his life.
This extraordinary and very capable man was clearly ahead of his time. Seventeen-year-old Ilya graduated from the Kharkov gymnasium with a gold medal, where he entered at the age of 11. The teenager mastered two languages - German and French, which later became very useful to him in life.
The high school students nicknamed Ilya the "priest" because all his speeches were like sermons for the glory of science. Then the young Mechnikov with high hopes rushed to the German city of Würzburg to receive higher education. But he arrived there very early, he had to wait six weeks before classes started. An empty university, a foreign country, a sense of loneliness and restlessness, an unfriendly German family from whom he rented a house, pushed the young Mechnikov to return to his native penates.
But the trip to Germany was not in vain – Mechnikov returned from Würzburg with a translation of Charles Darwin's acclaimed book on the role of natural selection in the origin of species, which had a tremendous impact on the future life of the future scientist.
In 1862, he entered Kharkiv University, where he illegally ran to lectures while studying at the men's gymnasium. His choice fell on the Natural Sciences department of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics. A student striving for knowledge has mastered a four-year course of study in just two years. He passed the exams externally and with "excellent".
To collect material for his PhD thesis, Ilya went to the far northern island of Heligoland, where he had at his disposal a truly priceless treasure – a lot of marine animals. Being on this tiny piece of land with an area of 1 sq. km, surrounded on all sides by the boundless North Sea, the novice scientist tried to establish links connecting various forms of the animal world. Ilya, due to lack of money, had to live in a fisherman's hut and save on food. Therefore, very often he carried out his scientific research almost hungry.
In September 1864, Mechnikov made a splash at the congress of naturalists in Giessen with his report on nematodes (roundworms). The gray-haired scientists applauded the rising scientific star. At the age of 19, Mechnikov was awarded the degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences, and by the age of 25 he was elected professor of Novorossiysk University (Odessa), associate professor of St. Petersburg University, defended his doctoral dissertation on the topic "History of embryonic development". These are the results of his hard work, perseverance and determination.
Mechnikov's first love and further family life
In St. Petersburg Ilya Ilyich met his first love - Lyudmila Fedorovich. It so happened that during a romantic relationship, the girl fell ill with tuberculosis. Lyudmila was fading before our eyes, every day she was getting worse and worse. Mechnikov acted very nobly – he offered his beloved hand and heart to a terminally ill woman. On the day of the wedding, the bride looked so weakened that she could not independently cover the distance from the carriage to the altar. I had to resort to the help of a chair, on which Lyudmila was carried into the church.
This was the beginning of Ilya Mechnikov's family life. He made great efforts to improve his wife's health and in 1869 took her away from the gloomy and damp St. Petersburg to sunny Italy, and then to Switzerland and Madeira. But tuberculosis still won – Lyudmila died in the spring of 1873.
The young husband, shocked by her death and a sharp drop in vision, drank morphine, as he decided to die after his wife. But the suicide attempt failed – the scientist's body rejected too large a dose of morphine.
The thirty-year-old professor married a second time in 1875 to a young student Olga Belokopytova. The choice of a life partner turned out to be very successful – Olga Nikolaevna devoted her whole life to her husband. She proved to be an indispensable assistant in the service of science. The couple had to go through a very difficult period in life: when Olga fell ill with typhoid fever and doctors predicted a bad outcome, Mechnikov became so nervous that he began to have difficulties with speech, he even diagnosed himself with bulbar paralysis. In this life situation, the young husband attempted suicide for the second time in his life - he deliberately infected himself with recurrent typhus, since he could not imagine his future life without his wife. Ilya Ilyich was ill in a very severe form. But fate wanted the loving couple to stay alive. The clarity of speech returned to the scientist, the inflammation of the eyes - chorioiditis, which developed in the researcher as a result of intensive work with the microscope, passed. The Mechnikov couple had no children.
Scientific achievements of Mechnikov. In 1882, Mechnikov left the university and went with his wife to Messina, where he discovered the phenomenon of phagocytosis – the destruction of foreign microbes by wandering cells of the body.
In 1886, the first bacteriological station in Russia and the second in the world to combat infectious diseases was established, which was rightfully headed by Ilya Mechnikov. It was located in thirteen rented rooms of an ordinary Odessa house on Guleva Street, 4 (currently Leo Tolstoy Street). In the period of 1886-1888, a stream of patients who suffered from the bites of rabid dogs and wolves came here.
Despite successful vaccinations, many detractors of the famous scientist spread rumors that rabies and cholera were specially infected in this institution. In 1887, during vaccinations against the rampant anthrax of sheep at that time, three thousand vaccinated animals out of the available four thousand fell on the estate of landowner Pankeev. Unsuccessful vaccination caused harassment of Mechnikov, who was also reproached for lack of medical education [3].
In 1888, the Mechnikovs left Russia and settled in Paris. Ilya Ilyich asked the famous scientist Louis Pasteur to give him a job at the institute as a private person, and without providing a salary. Pasteur was pleased to welcome the Russian scientist to his laboratory. The Pasteur Institute became almost a home for Mechnikov, where he had the opportunity to work quietly and win the recognition of the scientific world.
Once a scientist got into a conflict situation with a French count and was challenged to a duel. He, as the person being summoned, was given the right to choose a weapon. But Mechnikov would not be a Mechnikov if he chose the duelists' trivial weapon – a pistol. He offered to fight with just two glasses. One glass was supposed to contain pure water, the other was supposed to contain the same pure water, but with anthrax bacteria present in it. After such a statement, the French aristocrat decided to settle the conflict peacefully.
In 1908, Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine [3]. An invaluable contribution to science lies in the fact that Mechnikov revolutionized embryology by proving phylogenetic relationships between vertebrates and invertebrates. He created the science of immunology, developed theories of inflammation and orthobiosis, founded scientific gerontology. The scientist was sure that a person can live much longer. He considered the use of fermented milk products to be one of the factors of prolonging life [4].
The scientist desperately did not want to grow old and dreamed of a long and vigorous old age. By the time he had literally everything: recognition in the scientific world, a beloved wife, talented students, his youth had gone unnoticed. Mechnikov considered old age a disease and wanted to find ways to treat it. He took up this issue seriously at the age of 53. On the eve of his 70th birthday, Ilya Ilyich regretted that he did not start fighting aging at a younger age and that the secrets of prolonging human life were not revealed to him [5]. He urged all people to be optimistic, because pessimism leads to disharmony of human life.

Ilya Mechnikov died at dawn on July 15, 1916 from a secondary heart attack. The first heart attack occurred in 1913. Before his death, he felt it necessary to apologize to people for passing away so early, because his theory of orthobiosis assumes the life span of a human individual extending 100-120 years.
The fading scientist asked to take into account his poor cardiac heredity and the premature death of his relatives (brother Ivan Ilyich at 57, mother at 65 and father at 68).
The fifth child of the Guards officer Ilya Ivanovich Mechnikov and the daughter of the Jewish writer Emilia Lvovna Nevakhovich turned out to be so talented that he glorified his family and Fatherland for a long time and gave invaluable knowledge to mankind. Among Mechnikov's friends were no less famous scientists I.M.Sechenov, I.P.Pavlov, D.I.Mendeleev, K.A. Timiryazev [5]. After his death, Olga Mechnikova published warm and detailed memories of a man with whom she had been going through life for more than forty years. In Russia, a huge number of streets and universities bear the name of a famous scientist.
In conclusion, we note that Ilya Mechnikov's contribution to science has had a significant impact on our understanding of the human body. Mechnikov's pioneering work in the field of phagocytosis, the immune system and probiotics has led to important medical discoveries that have improved the lives of people around the world, allowed them to delve deeper into the issues of microbiology and living organisms. Despite difficulties and opposition throughout his career, Mechnikov remained devoted to his research and continued to make significant contributions to science until his death. His legacy as a brilliant scientist and visionary thinker continues to inspire researchers today, and his influence on the field of biology will be felt by generations to come.


About the authors

Alina Vladimirovna Ulyanova

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N.Burdenko

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2638-5792
SPIN-code: 2100-0399

student of the 5th year Faculty of Medicine and Prevention

Russian Federation, 10 Studentskaya str., Voronezh, 394036, Russia

Elena Andreevna Selikhova

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N.Burdenko

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3291-3464

student of the 5th year Faculty of Medicine and Prevention

Russian Federation, 10 Studentskaya str., Voronezh, 394036, Russia


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