by Piter Kehoma Boll
Today we celebrate the birthday of a Russian-British entomologist, David Keilin, whose work had important outcomes not only in entomology, but also in parasitology, biochemistry and even, indirectly, in molecular phylogeny.
Born on March 21, 1887 in Moscow, David Keilin was the son of Polish parents, his father being a small businessman. The family returned to Warsaw, Poland, when Keilin was still very young.
Since childhood, Keilin was a kid of poor health and who suffered from asthma. As a result, he was taught at home by a governess and only started to attend school at the age of 10. From this time until he was 17, he attended the Gorski school and showed an aptitude for mathematics, languages and literature.
After finishing school, he went to the University of Leige in Belgium, where he studied natural sciences, completing the two-year program in a single year. As he continued to have health issues at this time of his life, he was advised not to engage in medical studies, so in 1905 he moved to Paris where he attended philosophy lectures at the College de France and spent a lot of his time reading books at the Bibliotheque St. Genevieve.
One day, after having left a lecture by the philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941), Keilin was caught in a heavy rain and, seeking refuge, he ended up in a building that housed the Laboratoire d’Évolution des Êtres Organisés. There, the biologist Maurice Caullery (1868-1958) was giving a lecture and, having to wait the rain to give a break, Keilin watched the lecture and became impressed by it. As a result, he started to attend Caullery’s class three times a week and both became good friends. Caullery eventually offered him a position at the Laboratoire d’Évolution, where he worked as a parasitologist, and convinced him to enroll at the Sorbonne, where Keilin began classes in zoology, botany, embryology and geology.
Keilin published his first paper, on the life cycle of the fly Pollenia rudis, in 1909, and in 1915 he finished his doctorate. Soon after, he was recruted to Cambridge in the United Kingdom as an assistant to American-British bacteriologist George Nuttall (1862-1937) and spent the rest of his career there.
Up until 1920, most of Keilin’s work was descriptive, after which it became more experimental. While studying the life cycle of the horse bot fly, he observed a disappearance of the red color of the larva in later stages. By performing direct-vision spectroscopy on the pigments, he found a four-banded pattern in adult flies which he later also found in other organisms, including other insects, yeasts and even bacteria. By more detailed observations he found out that these pigments were oxidized by atmospheric oxigen, but in its absence were re-reduced. He decided to call this pigments cytochromes, and spent the rest of his career studying this pigments, discovering their function in cellular respiration.
Keilin succeeded Nuttall in 1931 and retired in 1965, but continued an active researcher until his death. During his work, Keilin studied several molecules and shed a lot of light on the mechanisms of cellular respiration.
On the afternoon of February 27, 1963, aged 75, Keilin died suddenly after a morning engaged in his usual activities in the laboratory.
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Dead Scientist of the Week. David Keilin. Available at < http://deadscientistoftheweek.blogspot.com.br/2010/03/david-keilin.html>. Access on March 20, 2018.
Dixon, M.; Tate, P. (1966) Obituary Notice: David Keilin, 1887-1963. Journal of General Microbiology 45: 159-185.
Erling, N. (2016) Nobel Prizes and Notable Discoveries. 580 pp.
Wikipedia. David Keilin. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Keilin >. Access on March 20, 2018.