Microbiological, virological, bacteriological, immunological, medical, epidemiological, historical, anecdotal

Tag: Russia

Wikipedia: Zinaida Ermolieva

Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermolieva (Russian: Зинаида Виссарионовна Ермольева; 15 October 1898 [O.S. 27 October] – 2 December 1974) was a Russian microbiologist and epidemiologist who led the Soviet effort to generate penicillin during the Second World War.


Born on a farm in the Frolovo region, Ermolieva attended school in Novocherkassk and studied medicine at Don University in Rostov-on-Don (now part of Southern Federal University), graduating in 1921. Continuing to work at Don University’s bacteriological institute, she collaborated with Nina Kliueva on a study on encephalitis lethargica [1], before moving to Moscow in 1925. There she worked at the People’s Commissariat of Health, as head of microbiology at a biochemical institute [2] that would later be named for its founder Aleksey Nikolayevich Bakh [3]. Early in her career she was known for her work on characterizing lysozyme and employing it as an antimicrobial agent [4].

During the Second World War Ermolieva became famous for her role in the independent Soviet effort to extract penicillin from mold, using the species Penicillium crustosum [4] (rather than P. notatum, the species employed by Alexander Fleming and other British scientists). To test this penicillin treatment, she was one of many scientists to travel to Abkhazia and make use of the monkey colonies at Sukhumi’s Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy [5].

Ermolieva also led the efforts to control a cholera outbreak in Stalingrad, as part of which she spent six months in the besieged city, and was credited with creating a bacteriophage-based vaccine against Vibrio cholerae in addition to developing the new Soviet source for penicillin.

Now an eminent scientist and patriotic hero, she was awarded the State Stalin Prize and spent the rest of her career in Moscow, being named director of the All-Union Research Institute for Antibiotics in 1947, and chair of the department of microbiology at the Central Postgraduate Medical Institute in 1952. She was also a founder and editor of the Moscow-based journal Antibiotiki [4]. According to Soviet propaganda, Ermolieva chose to redirect the proceeds from her Stalin Prize into building fighter jets, one of which was inscribed with her name. She was also publicly recognized as a self-experimenter, reportedly swallowing 1.5 billion cells of a glowing blue Vibrio strain in order to show that it caused a cholera-like illness [7].

Ermolieva was named an Academician of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences in 1965, and was named an Honored Scientist of the RSFSR in 1970 [8]. She received other state honors including the Order of the Red Banner of Labour, the Order of the Badge of Honour, and the Order of Lenin. Credited with over 500 scientific papers and as adviser for 34 doctoral theses in her career, Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermolieva died in Moscow in 1974.

Personal Life

Ermolieva was married twice, both times to fellow microbiologists. She was important in the efforts to free her ex-husband Lev Alexandrovich Zilber, who had been imprisoned in labor camps on suspicions of spying for Germany and misusing his research on tick-borne encephalitis virus and Japanese encephalitis virus [9]. Zilber was freed permanently in 1944 and later rehabilitated in the eyes of the Kremlin, receiving several of the same state honors as Ermolieva [10]. Her second husband, Aleksey Aleksandrovich Zakharov, was also a microbiologist who was denounced during the Second World War, and died in a prison hospital in 1940 [11].

She became a model for aspiring Soviet female scientists as the basis for protagonist Tatiana Vlasenkova in The Open Book, a trilogy of novels written between 1949 and 1956 by Veniamin Alexandrovich Kaverin, the brother of Lev Zilber [12]. The Open Book was adapted in feature film form in 1973 [13], and as a television series in 1977 [14]. She is also the basis for the character Anna Valerievna Dyachenko in the Russian TV series “Black Cats” (Чёрные кошки), set in postwar Rostov-on-Don [15].


1. Krementsov, Nikolai (2007). The Cure: A Story of Cancer and Politics from the Annals of the Cold War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 40. ISBN 9780226452845.


3. Kretovich, W.L. (1983), “A.N. Bach, Founder of Soviet School of Biochemistry”. in Semenza, G. Selected Topics in the History of Biochemistry: Personal Recollections (Comprehensive Biochemistry Vol. 35). Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers. p. 346.

4.(pdf) S. Navashin (1975), Obituary of Prof. Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermolieva, The Journal of Antibiotics vol. XXVIII, no. 5, p. 399.


7. Fiks, Arsen P (2003). Self-Experimenters: Sources for Study. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. p. 70.

8. “Zinaida Ermol’eva”. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (1970-1979).

9. Zlobin, V.I. et al. (2005). “Tick-Borne Encephalitis”. in Ebert, Ryan A. Progress in Encephalitis Research. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2005. p.32. ISBN 1-59454-345-3.

10. “Lev Zil’ber”. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (1970-1979).


12. Eremeeva, Anna (2006). “The Woman Scientist in Soviet Artistic Discourse”. in Saurer, Edith; Lanzinger, Margareth; Frysak, Elisabeth. Women’s Movements: Networks and Debates in Post-Communist Countries in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Köln: Böhlau Verlag GmbH & Cie. p. 347. ISBN 9783412322052.




All facts not otherwise cited are from the Russian Wikipedia page on Zinaida Ermolieva, accessed via Google Translate on 24 August 2014.

Winter pandemic at the Winter Palace

From J. Lawrence-Hamilton (1893), Foul fish and fish fevers, Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission volume XIII: 311-334.


Now that the long severe orthodox Russian church fast is almost over, I hope you’ve been careful at feast time when retrieving fish from your natural freezer sunk in the icy river. Remember, if you think the weather’s been mild enough to thaw the fish since you froze it, don’t take the chance. Stick with vegetables. No cholera outbreak has ever been traced to parsnips.

This epidemic in Russia lasted over a year and was reportedly the cause of death for the composer Tchaikovsky, among a hundred thousand others. Even in a frigid locale like Saint Petersburg, these things can happen with relatively warm conditions and no concern for the sanitary needs of the lower classes.

Christmas at the Winter Palace, 2011 (source: Xinhua)

Christmas at the Winter Palace, 2011 (source: Xinhua)

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For a PDF of the 1893 Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, click here. J. Lawrence-Hamilton’s piece has also been encoded in HTML with a useful index, courtesy of Penobscot Bay Watch’s archive of New England- and Maritimes-related BUSFC reports.

The BUSFC has some interesting historical writing (“Notes on the History of the Fish-hook”; “The Fisheries of Japan”; “The Clam Problem and Clam Culture”), in addition to drier pieces such as “Vegetable Parasites of Codfish” and “The Propagation of Black Bass in Ponds”. This article, “Foul Fish and Fish Fevers”, merely mentions the St. Petersburg typhoid outbreak in passing, being quite an extensive collection of anecdotes about seafood-related disease of the past 1000 years, and the ways governments and guilds through the years have tried to enforce sanitary fishmongery.

Even the zoological pieces in the BUSFC can be quite readable, including “What We Know About the Lobster” (also 1893), by Fred Mather, Superintendent of the Cold Spring Harbor hatchery and editor of Forest and Stream magazine. This guy is hilarious.

A very natural question for a reader to ask … is: “Why don’t you retain the youthful lobster until it ceases to swim and settles down to crawling, and thereby stock a certain district in which your State, that pays for the work, is interested?” To this I should reply that in theory that would be the proper and most correct thing to do, but in practice we find that there is a factor that will not be left out of our calculations, and this factor is cannibalism.

There is, at present writing, no food for a larval lobster known to me that is as acceptable as another larval lobster that has just molted. I have tried to bribe them by hanging flesh of eel, clam, beef, lobster (adult), blue crab, and fiddler crab, but without avail; their love for their fellows which prompted them to take their brethren in out of the wet, lest they be devoured by small fishes, baffled my efforts… If each youngster could be placed in a tank or even a small compartment by itself, no doubt it would accept any, or all, of the foods named, but at present we are not prepared to feed a million or more individual lobsters in separate stalls for months before turning them out to shift for themselves. … They are fighters by nature, and when a lobsterman has a lot of adults in a floating car and a storm comes up each lobster blames his neighbor for any collision that may ensue and they engage in a general fight, which is not only disastrous to themselves but to the lobsterman, for lobsters are not marketable in fragments.

Merry Christmas!