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Sulev Kuuse

IN MEMORIAM. Professor emeritus Ain Heinaru (3 October 1943 – 30 April 2022)

Professor emeritus Ain Heinaru (3 October 1943 – 30 April 2022)

Professor emeritus Ain Heinaru of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Tartu, has passed away. He will be remembered as a brilliant professor, a dynamic researcher, an enthusiastic administrator and a valued colleague. 

Ain Heinaru was one of the first researchers at the University of Tartu to study genetics and its technological applications, and a pioneer in this field. He graduated from the University of Tartu in biology in 1967 as a geneticist, and defended his candidate of sciences dissertation in genetics in 1971. In the dissertation, he explored the transmission of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which now, 50 years later, is one of the most burning issues in medicine. In 1977–1978, he worked at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland on the genetics of biodegradative plasmids in soil bacteria that degrade pollutant petroleum products and phenolic compounds. From the research studies he launched, an entire new generation of scientists has grown in Tartu. Starting from 1992, Ain Heinaru worked as the Professor of Genetics at the University of Tartu until retirement as professor emeritus in 2020.

Many colleagues remember Ain’s tireless enthusiasm and determination in reforming Estonian higher education and research, and in creating new structures. He built up the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Tartu and became its first director in 1990. From 1998 to 2002, he was dean of the Faculty of Biology and Geography and then vice rector for research at the University of Tartu. Ain Heinaru was also extremely active and renowned outside the university. From 1995 to 1998, he was head of the Department of Research and Higher Education at the Ministry of Education, and from 2009, the research and development adviser at the Estonian Military Academy. 

Ain made an invaluable contribution to the creation and introduction of genetic terms in Estonian. From the very beginning of his professional activities, he was a leader of developing genetic knowledge and terminology. He published several textbooks and other works. The first of them, “Pärilikkus ja nukleiinhapped” (“Heredity and nucleic acids”), was published in 1980 already. It provided a systematic overview of the basic concepts in molecular biology and genetics at the time. Ain Heinaru compiled a comprehensive genetics textbook and a glossary, which is used not only in higher education institutions but also by teachers and students of general education schools. The textbook is appreciated as a reference book by people from other disciplines. Together with Sulev Kuuse, he recently published the Estonian-English-Estonian dictionary of genetics that contains more than 7,500 terms. A wider audience may be familiar with his book “Üks meeter elu. 100 müüti geneetikast” (“One metre of life. 100 myths of genetics”), which was published in 2018 and was very well received. His newspaper articles, written in his characteristic style, generated lively debates on important issues and thus enabled him to perform his role as an opinion leader in society.

In 2012, Ain Heinaru was granted the lifetime achievement award of the Estonian Society of Human Genetics and he was named an honorary member of the Association of Estonian Biology Educators. In addition, he received a number of other awards and decorations, including the Order of the White Star, 4th class (2004), the University of Tartu Grand Medal (2008) and the Tartu Medal (2011). He got the National Research Award of the Republic of Estonia in 1992 in the field of biosciences and environmental sciences, and in 2014, for outstanding lifetime achievements in research. 

We mourn the loss of a valued colleague and send our deepest condolences to his family.

Colleagues from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology