Alexandra Putrament's death on January 1, 2003 ended a career that is unique in the history of genetics.
At age 13, as the Nazis advanced on Red Army-occupied Poland, the Russians deported her and her family to Siberia. There were no schools at the isolated site, and during the remaining war years she helped obtain food for her family by collecting resin in the forest. On return from Siberia after the war, her education resumed in a Soviet-liberated Poland where there were no textbooks, professorships were awarded on political merit, and the 'new biology' of Michurin/Lysenko was dominant. Thanks to Wacslaw Gajewski, she emerged from this morass to become his first doctoral student and his senior collaborator in restoring genetics in Poland. Her experiences and the events leading to her appreciation of 'western' genetics are described in a memorable article, "How I became a Lysenkoist" (Quarterly Review of Biology 65:435-445, 1990).
In 1961, after spending 10 months in Guido Pontecorvo's laboratory in Glasgow, she initiated work with Aspergillus nidulans in Poland. Her work in Glasgow led to a joint publication with Obaid Siddiqi on polarized negative interference. In Warsaw, she continued working on recombination and mutagenesis, first in Aspergillus, then in yeast. Her finding - that manganese ions induce specifically point mutations in mitochondrial DNA - allowed the isolation of hundreds of mitochondrial mutants in many laboratories and had an important impact on studies of fungal mitochondrial genome organization.
As senior person in the Warsaw genetics laboratory, she supervised and helped train new generations of students. In the 1970's, as co-investigator with Gajewski on an NIH-administered US-Polish grant for research on recombination and mutagenesis in fungi, she visited laboratories at Stanford, Berkeley, and Edmonton. To her friends abroad, she wrote wonderfully astute and witty letters commenting on science, politics, and the human condition. John Steinbeck was one of her favorite authors, and she took special pleasure while in California in visiting the Gabilans, Salinas Valley, and Monterey.
The work that she and Gajewski initiated is continuing in Poland, in able hands.
David D. Perkins
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