Life Science in Armenia has a history of more than 3000 years. Originating from traditional medicine, Armenian medicine included the experience of many generation of Armenian physician referring to the creative properties of Armenian flora, fauna and minerals.
The father of Armenian medicine and Life Science is Mkhitar Heratsi, a 12th-century Armenian physician and philosopher. He played the same role in Armenian medicine as Hippocrates did for Greek medicine, Galen in Roman medicine, and Ibn Sina in the Islamic world.
He is the author of several outstanding works including “On the Structure and the Creation of the Eye”. Here he describes seven membranes of the eye, six muscles, and a pair of optic nerves. Just like Galen, Mkhitar Heratsi believed that the lens plays a major role in the vision process.
Heratsi’s fully preserved work, “Consolation of Fevers,” written in 1184 and addressed to physicians, is considered his masterpiece. It is an encyclopedic work in which he discussed, among other subjects, surgery, diet, and psychotherapy. It was the first book to describe the theory of “mold” as a fever-causing living factor. This is noteworthy considering that microscopes had not been invented during this period and there would have been no way of seeing or proving their existence. His work and statement about living factors forecasted the existence of microorganisms. Heratsi’s work, the oldest hand-written list, which is kept in the “Matenadaran”, a depository of Ancient Manuscripts, testifies the high scientific level of medieval Armenian medicine. All this rightfully put forward the Armenian physician in the first rows of representatives of medieval medicine.
The invention of printing had a significant role in the development of science, and the first Armenian printed book “Urbatagirq” (1512), which was printed in Venice, included a chapter containing medical terms. “Consolation of Fevers” was also first published in Venice, in 1832, based on the 12th-century manuscript.
Although “Consolation of Fevers” was written in the 12th century, it presented a great interest among the world’s scientists for centuries and was translated to several languages. In 1899 the “Consolation of Fevers” was published in French, in 1908 Ernst Seidel translated the book to German, and in 1955 the book was also translated into Russian.
Heratsi’s other well-known works include “Pathology”, “Akhrapatin” (Pharmacology), and “Anatomy” which were all preserved in fragments.
Mkhitar Heratsi created scientific terms, many of which were preserved in modern Armenian medical literature. However, he did not write in grabar (Classical Armenian), which was the scientific language of that time, but in conversational Armenian. He did so believing that his book would be helpful not only for science-minded specialists but for the general population as well. It should be noted that he was well versed in Persian, Greek, and Arabic.
Amirdovlat Amasiatsi, also known as Amirdovlat of Amasia, was a 15th-century Armenian physician and writer. He wrote several books on medicine mainly focusing on phytotherapy and pharmacology using medicinal plants, animal-derived products, and minerals. All his works were written in Middle Armenian, the spoken Armenian language of the time.
In his writings, Amirdovlat described unique recipes that represent a portrayal of medical knowledge and practice at the time in Anatolia where he lived and worked. He discussed the physical and therapeutic properties as well as geographic distributions of various plants and minerals, using different languages, mainly Greek, Arabic, French and Persian.
Amirdovlat’s works, in particular, “Useless for the Ignorant”, are very unique, playing a significant role in preserving traditions and heritage of different cultures. “Useless for the Ignorant” (“Angitats Anpet”) is an encyclopedia of simple drugs and included 1400 of them. This written piece is by far Amirdovlat’s most important accomplishment. The dictionary attests to the vast knowledge of the author of remedial properties of plants, animals, and minerals in the preparation of drugs. Amirdovlat shows a greater preference for wild plants as a source of drugs; he recommends the use of saffron and hashish as pain-relieving and sleep-inducing drugs. He advocates the use of animal organs as well as minerals, particularly the common salt for drug making, and recommends various preparations with iron for the cure of abdominal and intestinal ailments and anemia, as well as a sulfur ointment for skin diseases.
Another famous work was “Usefulness of Medicine” where Amirdovlat Amasiatsi described over 200 diseases of the following organ-systems: heart, vessels, respiratory system, digestive system, urinary-genital organs, central nervous system.
The most outstanding representative of Armenian Life Science in the 20th century is Levon Orbeli (1882-1958). He was the founder of submarine and aviation physiology, cosmic biology, and medicine. Orbeli was also a renowned author with over 130 original scientific papers.
He was a great Armenian physiologist who created the basic principles of comparative evolutional physiology, the theory on the adaptive and trophic functions of the sympathetic nervous system, and studies on the physiological role of the cerebellum as a regulator of all the vegetative processes in the organism.
He developed a new direction in science: evolutionary physiology, and for the first time received objective data on the visual function of an animal, depending on the activity of the cerebral hemispheres. He also substantiated the doctrine of the adaptive-trophic function of the sympathetic nervous system and the adaptive-trophic role of the autonomic nervous system.
He was engaged in research in the field of mechanisms of higher nervous activity, comparative and age-related physiology of conditioned reflexes, the influence of external factors on higher nervous activity, etc.
Orbeli and his students’ work would play an important role in the problems of pain, physiology, and pathology of the sense organs and the effect of high and low barometric pressure on the human body.
Khachatour Koshtoyants (1900-1961) was an Armenian physiologist whose research specialized in evolutionary physiology. His scientific heritage had a great influence on the modern understanding of the neurochemistry of the nervous system.
His scientific interests covered various sections of physiology, from digestion to mediator processes in the nervous system. However, his main works are devoted to the problems of the evolution of the functions of organisms and the theoretical foundations of evolutionary physiology.
He developed an enzyme-chemical neurotransmitter hypothesis of nerve excitation, based on the interaction of metabolic processes and the structure of their proteins.
He was a staunch supporter of chemical mechanisms of transmission of excitation from cell to cell.
Koshtoyants experimentally showed the possibility of regulating the reactions of the body with the help of directed changes in certain elements of metabolism, changes in the functional activity of the systems of the body when influencing metabolic processes.
He studied the bioelectric potentials of the skeleton and cardiac muscles. He proved the special role of sulfhydryl groups of protein molecules in the state of protein bodies, fibrinogen, and muscle proteins. He found that the binding of the mediator in the nerve ending is carried out by specialized proteins that are capable of cyclically reversibly changing their structure and performing their function.
Mikhail Chailakhyan (1902–1991) was an Armenian scientist, who is widely known for proposing the existence of a universal plant hormone (florigen) that is involved in flowering plants.
In the 1930s, in Leningrad, Chailakhyan began to work on the study of the photoperiodic reaction of plants. For most of his experiments, he used the simplest equipment: dark dense tissue and a scalpel. For a plant to perceive the length of the day as a stimulus for flowering, it must reach a certain age. Chailakhyan called this age a flower-ripe state, that is, internal factors of development should lead the plant to a certain state. After receiving the signal, the meristem does not immediately form the visible organs of the flower. This is preceded by a period of “hidden preparation” for flowering (“evocation” according to Chailakhyan).
He conducted his experiments on chrysanthemums, which sharply accelerate the onset of flowering in a short day. By locally sanctifying plants and removing parts of organs, Chailakhyan proved that it is the leaf that is the main organ of photoperiodic perception. Chailakhyan put forward an explanation for the disunity of the places of perception of photoperiodic stimulation and plant response. He stated that under the influence of a favorable photoperiod, a hormonal substance is formed in the leaf - florigen, which moves to the stem apex, causing the apical meristem to transform from vegetative to generative (floral). He introduced this term in 1936.
In the second half of the 1930s, Chailakhyan conducted experiments to prove the presence of florigen in plants of various species, its formation in leaves, and to determine the speed and direction of movement of florigen in a plant. As a result of experiments, it became known that florigen is a universal substance that does not have specificity concerning both the type of photoperiod and the species of plants. Based on these results, in 1937, Chailakhyan developed the hormonal theory of plant flowering.
In the late 1950s, Chailakhyan investigated the effect of gibberellins on plant flowering. It became known that in some plants, gibberellin accelerated the formation of flowers. According to the hormonal theory of plant development from Chailakhyan, the formation of florigen is necessary for the flowering of many plants. In neutral plants, florigen is formed constantly and does not depend on external conditions.
In Yerevan, in the laboratory of plant physiology of the Botanical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR, Chailakhyan began research on finding raw sources of vitamin C. In subsequent years, he continued to study the hormonal regulation of flowering plants, while studying the role of growth hormones - auxins in the processes of photoperiodism, growth stimulation and development. In the 1960s, Chailakhyan obtained new data indicating the presence of two independent groups of flowering hormones. It turned out that the flowering period is different in long-day and short-day species: for long-day plants, the formation and growth of stems begin, in short-day plants, the formation of flowers begins.
In the 1970s and subsequent years, Chailakhyan put forward a theory of two types of flowering regulation: autonomous, in which the formation of flowering hormones does not depend on environmental factors, and photoperiodic regulation, in which the formation of flowering hormones is associated with the influence of day length.
Ezras Hasratyan (1903-1981) was an Armenian neurophysiologist whose main scientific research was based on higher nervous activity within the system.
He developed the theory of adaptability of the nervous system, illuminating the mechanism of restorative phenomena in the damaged organism and the decisive role in this of the cerebral cortex.
Hasratyan put the concept of the protective role of inhibition as the basis for the treatment of traumatic shock and the consequences of some organic brain damage.
He developed numerous ideas surrounding the morpho-functional multi-story of unconditioned reflexes, tonic, conditioned reflexes, about the mechanisms of switching in higher nervous activity, etc.
Hasratyan substantiated the therapeutic and protective role of the inhibition process, developed a new method of prevention and treatment, and researched one's recovery from shock conditions caused by trauma, burns, and fever.
He is an author of discoveries, among which the most important are the regularities of the systematization of conditioned reflexes.
The main topics of his scientific papers are physiology of compensatory adaptability, physiology of higher nervous activity, and evolutionary recovery physiology.
Norair Sissakian (1907-1966) was a biochemist who was considered to be one of the founders of Cosmic Biology. He is an author of pioneer works on the biochemistry of sub-cell structures and technical biochemistry. Sissakian was an outstanding organizer of science and the global cooperation of scientists.
Sissakian has done research in the area of general applied biochemistry of plants and technical biochemistry. His role in the foundation and development of Cosmic Biology is just invaluable.
Figuratively speaking, the scientist combined Biology with Space. One area of focus and of extreme importance was to assess the degree of harmful effects of different types of ionizing radiation on the human body and to find ways to reduce the risk. Work in this direction was carried out intensively and widely thanks to the developed program by Sissakian. It required and involved a large circle of leading specialists and prominent scientists in various fields of modern Biology in its implementation. Through his initiative and with active participation, more than 10 research laboratories were organized.
At the same time, he “was not limited to general biological problems of Space flights”. He was directly involved in checking the readiness of cosmonauts for flight. Sissakian led and directly participated in the development of a program that: prepared a person for flight into space, selected and trained astronaut candidates, ensured safety and medical control in flight, returning to Earth, rescue, and subsequent study of their health.
Hrachya Buniatyan (1907-1981) was a famous Armenian biochemist who was considered the founder of biochemistry and neurochemistry in Armenia.
His scientific research focused on the biochemistry of the brain, the biochemistry of the role of vitamins, phosphatides, and biogenic amines in the processes of oxidation and neural regulation of metabolism.
He studied the mechanisms of the formation of ammonia from amino acids, discovered a new nicotinamide coenzyme, and studied its role in metabolic processes. He highlighted the role of γ-aminobutyric acid in the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids and found new copper-containing proteins in the brain.
Armen Leonovich Takhtajian (1910-2009) was an Armenian botanist who was considered one of the most important figures in 20th-century plant evolution, systematics, and biogeography. His other interests included morphology of flowering plants, paleobotany, and the flora of the Caucasus.
In his revised classification, 'Flowering Plants', he synthesized his vast knowledge of plant evolution acquired over 60 years of study and much of the phylogenetic information that had been published in recent years by others.
Takhtajian worked at the Komarov Botanical Institute in Leningrad, where he developed his 1940 classification scheme for flowering plants, which emphasized phylogenetic relationships between plants. His system did not become known to botanists in the West until after 1950, and in the late 1950s, he began a correspondence and collaboration with the prominent American botanist Arthur Cronquist, whose plant classification scheme was heavily influenced by his collaboration with Takhtajian and other botanists at Komarov.
The "Takhtajian system" of flowering plant classification treats flowering plants as a division (phylum), Magnoliophyta, with two classes, Magnoliopsida (dicots) and Liliopsida (monocots). These two classes are subdivided into subclasses, and then superorders, orders, and families. The Takhtajian system is similar to the Cronquist system, but with somewhat greater complexity at the higher levels. He favors smaller orders and families, to allow character and evolutionary relationships to be more easily grasped.
The Takhtajian classification system remains influential; it is used, for example, by the Montréal Botanical Garden.
Takhtajian also developed a system of floristic regions.