Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermol'eva

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Zinaida Ermol'eva
Born Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermol'eva
(1898-10-27)October 27, 1898
Frolovo, Don Host Oblast, Russian Empire
Died December 2, 1974(1974-12-02) (aged 76)
Fields Microbiology, Epidemiology
Alma mater Southern Federal University
Known for Inventor of Penicillin in the USSR
Notable awards Order of Lenin
Memorial plaque to Ermol'eva in her birthplace of Frolovo, commemorating her as the recipient of the USSR State Prize

Zinaida Vissarionovna Ermol'eva (Russian: Зинаида Виссарионовна Ермольева) (October 27 [O.S. October 15] 1898 - December 2, 1974) was a microbiologist most notable for independently synthesizing penicillin for the Soviet military during World War II. She was a member of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences at the time of her death.[1]


In 1921, Ermol'eva graduated from the medical faculty of Donskoy University. From 1925 on, she acted as the head of several microbiology and epidemiology institutes in Moscow.[2]

In 1925, Ermol'eva was appointed head of the Department of Microbial Biochemistry at the USSR Academy of Sciences. There, she began her research on bacteriophages and naturally-occurring antimicrobial agents—lysozyme in particular. During the Second World War, she isolated a penicillin-producing strain of Penicillium crustosum. It was first used in Soviet hospitals in 1943.[3]

In 1942, she published the results of an experiment performed on herself, where she infected herself by drinking a solution of Vibrio cholerae and recovered after treatment.[4] The results of her research were seen as essential in preventative measures against cholera in Russia's war efforts in the Eastern Front of World War II.[2][5]

In 1947, Ermol'eva became the director of the newly formed Institute of Antibiotics of the USSR Ministry of Public Health.[6] From 1952 until her death, she headed the Department of Microbiology of the Central Post-Graduate Medical Institute in Moscow (now the Russian Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education).[2][7]

Ermol'eva was married to the microbiologist Lev Zilber, whose brother, the novelist Veniamin Kaverin used the career of Ermol'eva and her husband as a basis for a fictionalized account in his trilogy Open Book (1949–56).[8] The "lively and realistic" depiction of Tatiana, the character based on Ermol'eva, popularized microbiology as a possible career among girls in the Soviet Union.[9]

Awards and recognition

Scientific interests

Scientific writing

Ermolieva was the author of more than 500 papers, several books, such as "Penicillin", "Antibiotics, Bacterial Polysaccharides, Interferon" and others. She was the founder and chief editor of the Soviet journal Antibiotiki.


  1. "Obituary: Zinaida Vissarionova Ermolieva". Journal of Antibiotics. 28 (5): 399. 1968.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Кноповым, М.М.; Клясовым, А.В. "История РМАПО: Зинаида Виссарионовна Ермольева — создатель первого отечественного антибиотика" [History RMAPO: Zinaida Vissarionovna Yermolyeva - Creator of the first domestic antibiotic] (in Russian). Russian Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education. Retrieved 16 January 2016.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Ford, J.B. (2014). "Crisis Point: The Rise and Fall of Penicillin" (PDF). The Microscope. 62 (3): 123–135.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Arsen P. Fiks; Paul A. Buelow (2003). Self-experimenters: Sources for Study. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-313-32348-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Karpova, Lisa (1 Feb 2013). "Seventy years after the Battle of Stalingrad". Pravda.ru.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Commire, Anne; Klezmer, Deborah (eds.). Dictionary of women worldwide : 25,000 women through the ages. Thomson Gale. p. 612. ISBN 0-7876-7585-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Tsarevskaya, Lyubov (25 April 2012). "Madam Penicillin". Voice of Russia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature, ed. Maxim D. Shrayer, Routledge: London & New York, 2015, p. 269 ("Veniamin Kaverin")
  9. Anna Eremeeva, "The Woman-Scientist in Soviet Artistic Discourse", in: Edith Saurer et al., Women's Movements. Networks and Debates in post-communist Countries in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 2006, p. 347
  10. "Zinaida ErmolEva". Great Soviet Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). Gale Group. 1979.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>