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Profile: Boris Zakharov

Dr. Boris Zakharov. ©AMNH

During the last 12 years, Dr. Boris Zakharov has worked at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), which houses the largest spider collection in the world. His research interest is the taxonomy of these amazing creatures.

Boris was born and grew up in East Siberia, not far from one of the world’s natural wonders – Lake Baikal. The rich and majestic nature of the lake fascinated him.  He spent summers in his family’s house in the mountains and short trips around the lake resulted in a house filled with trophies in the form of collections of minerals, plants, beetles, flies, and mollusks. 

During High School he focused mostly on biochemistry and molecular genetics. This led him to Irkutsk State University to study a broad range of subjects from Botany to Population Genetics and exposed him to world-class scientific research. Here he met A.G. Gurwitsch, an embryologist and the first author of the Theory of Dynamic Biological Field, A.A. Lubischew (who studied beetle taxonomy and theories of classification), and Nobel Prize Laureate and author of The Theory of Stress, Hans Sillier. These three scientists were influential in shaping Boris’ view of science in general and Biology in particular. All of them were united by one simple, but profoundly deep idea, that the whole is not a mechanical combination of its parts. And this idea leads to the very simple conclusion that organisms can only be understood by looking holistically at a variety of levels, from taxonomic to molecular.

These ideas transformed Boris’ thinking and turned his academic interests toward systematics. His Masters Thesis was on the taxonomy of orb-weaving spiders (Araneidae) of the southern Pacific Coast of Russia. Boris continued his education at the Institute of Biology, which is the Siberian Branch of the Academy of Sciences, where he earned his Ph.D. in Entomology.

Life in New York offered the opportunity to continue to study spiders.  At AMNH Boris joined the group of Norman Platnick, Vladimir Ovtsharenko and Kefyn Catley, to work on Australian ground spiders (Gnaphosidae). The diversity of these spiders is truly astonishing. But no less astonishing is the fact that so little is known about these common and comparatively “big” spiders. In collaboration with Dr. V. Ovtsharenko, he is currently working on the little known genus, Encoptarthria. He is an author of several scientific and general articles and is a teacher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York).

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