Alexander Sergeevich Spirin
(9/4/1931 – 12/30/2020)
Alexander Spirin was an eminent Russian biochemist, who was one of the early pioneers in ribosome research. His lifelong research interests were nucleic acids and protein synthesis. Among his many early achievements he predicted the existence of messenger RNA, and showed that the RNA content of ribosomes does not code for protein, but is structural in nature. As someone coming into the field rather late, as a structural biologist, I mostly appreciated his work on mRNA-tRNA translocation. He had deep insights by considering the ribosome as a thermal ratchet, a concept that was later confirmed by our cryo-EM studies.
Spirin made a major mark on science in Russia by founding the Institute of Protein Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Puchini, Moscow Region, which he then led for many years as director. I had twice the pleasure of meeting him, once on the invitation of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the occasion of his 80th birthday, and once in New York when he followed my invitation to speak at a symposium.