Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 128, Issue 4, pp 237–248 | Cite as

From molecules to the biosphere: Nikolai V. Timoféeff-Ressovsky’s (1900–1981) research program within a totalitarian landscape

  • Georgy S. LevitEmail author
  • Uwe Hoßfeld
Original Paper


Nikolai Vladimirovich Timoféeff-Ressovsky was one of the key figures in the Synthetic Theory of Evolution. Living and researching under what was arguably the two most powerful and cruel totalitarian regimes in human history, the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, Timoféeff-Ressovsky succeeded in developing an ambitious research program aiming to explain evolution on all major levels, from the molecular-genetic, the populational, and the biogeocenotic to the level of the entire Biosphere. Yet his scientific biography remains largely unwritten and his role under totalitarianism, especially in Nazi Germany, remains highly controversial. Here we approach the problem of his hypothetical cooperation with Nazi authorities examining both the crucial episodes of his biography and summarizing the development of his research program. We conclude that the key decisions he made reflected the specificity of his research program that was focused on the fundamental questions of evolutionary biology.


Timoféeff-Ressovsky Evolutionary Synthesis Nazi Germany Molecular genetics The Biosphere theory Biogeocenosis Radiobiology 



Our research on the history of evolutionary biology is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Ho 2143/9-1). GL extends his thanks to the University of King’s College (Halifax) for all-around assistance and a travel grant. The authors are thankful to Ulrich Kutschera, Elisabeth Frazer, Ian stewart, and an anonymous reviewer for valuable suggestions. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the permission granted to avail the facilities at Archive of the Jena University (UAJ) and Archiv der Zentralstelle der BStU.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of King’s CollegeHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.AG BiodidacticsFSU JenaJenaGermany

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