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Macfarlane Burnet was an Australian virologist famous for his contributions to and research on immunology. He was given the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology.
See the fact file below for more information on the Macfarlane Burnet or alternatively, you can download our 24-page Macfarlane Burnet worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Frank Macfarlane Burnet was born on September 3, 1899, in Traralgon, Victoria, Australia.
- His father was the branch manager of the Colonial bank of the town, and his mother was the child of a Scottish teacher.
- In 1909, the family moved to Terang.
- While in primary school, he developed his lifelong passion for collecting beetles.
- At first, his only source of information about beetles was the Chambers Encyclopedia until his parents subscribed to Harmsworth’s Natural History magazine to support his growing interest in biology.
- Macfarlane also purchased books about insects and beetles.
- He had his secondary education at the prestigious Geelong College after getting a full residential scholarship.
- He was academically inclined but was a bit awkward with his peers.
- In 1916, he graduated as the top student of Geelong College, earning yet again a full residential scholarship to the Ormond College of the University of Melbourne.
- Frank entered the university in 1917. At the age of 22, he received his Bachelor of Surgery and Bachelor of Medicine.
- He became a senior resident pathologist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in 1923.
- In 1925, he relocated to London, England to work at the Lister Institute as an assistant curator.
- Burnet was allowed to do his research at Lister. He chose to study microorganisms and impressed his supervisors with his ability. The Lister Institute later gave him a fellowship to further pursue his interests.
- In 1923, he was given a PhD by the University of London for his research into bacteriophages.
- Mac returned to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute as an Assistant Director in 1928. He was later appointed as the director of the Institute in 1944.
- While Burnet was the director of the Institute, its scientists made substantial contributions to research on infectious diseases. This period has been known as the “golden age of virology”.
- Frank also became Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University of Melbourne.
- In 1932-1933, he was at the National Institute for Medical Research in Hampstead, London.
- While Burnet was at the National Institute, he researched the canarypox virus, that causes disease in both captive and wild birds.
- From this, he was able to develop a chick embryo assay to isolate and quantify animal viruses. His technique has become a standard laboratory practice in culturing viruses in living embryos of chicks.
- Frank also increased knowledge of how influenza viruses cause infection.
- He was the first man to acquire and isolate the organism Coxiella burnetti which causes the Q fever.
- Burnet did significant research in virology, but his most important scientific achievements were in immunology.
- Frank took part in the discovery of how the immune system of vertebrae distinguishes antigens from its own cells.
- His work also helped determine how immunological tolerance occurs.
- Although he was not able to experimentally prove his hypothesis on immunological tolerance, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1960, sharing it with Peter Medawar. Peter Medawar and his team were able to support the hypothesis of Burnet with research results.
- Frank’s interest in the body’s antibody production as a response to antigens increased even more.
- He started working with Frank Fenner to propose an indirect template theory which suggests that antigens could influence the genome of the host, thus affecting the creation of antibodies.
- Mac also developed the clonal selection theory which expounds on the functions of lymphocytes in response to certain antigens that invade the body.
- He introduced this theory as an effort to explain why a great range of antibodies are formed at the start of the immune response.
- Although his theory was controversial when he first spoke of it, it became the widely accepted model for immune response mechanisms and served as the foundation of modern immunology.
- Frank Burnet published various scientific papers discussing his experimental results and experiences. He also wrote books, which demonstrated his skill in writing understandable explanations of scientific facts and complex ideas.
- Burnet received numerous awards and honors for his contributions.
PERSONAL LIFE AND DEATH
- In 1928, Frank married Edith Linda Druce. Edith was the daughter of a clerk and was a secondary school teacher.
- The couple’s first child was a boy. They later had two daughters.
- Edith died in 1973 after battling lymphoid leukemia for four years.
- During his wife’s final years, Mac refused to attend overseas lectures to spend more time with his wife.
- Burnet spent a period after Edith’s death in a lethargic and reclusive state.
- He then resumed collecting beetles and moved to Ormond College to keep himself company, although he still wrote mock letters to his wife once a week a year after her death.
- In 1975, he went to California for a series of lectures. He met Hazel G. Jenkins and they got married in 1976.
- Jenkins was a librarian in the microbiology department. She was also a former singer.
- Frank retired in 1978. He was able to write two more books in his retirement.
- In 1982, he contributed a piece to the book Challenge to Australia. Burnet and two others wrote about genetic issues and the impact of these issues on Australia’s impact.
- The next year, after the book’s great success, Burnet was included in the Australian Advisory Council of Elders. The council consisted of 70 persons that offered advice to policymakers.
- Even after his retirement, Mac continued traveling and giving lectures, until he and his wife were increasingly troubled by illness.
- Burnet had surgery for colorectal cancer in November 1984.
- He became ill again, suffering from pain in his legs and thorax.
- In June 1985, secondary lesions were found and were declared to be terminal and inoperable.
- Burnet died at Port Fairy in his son’s house on August 31.
- The Australian government gave him a state funeral where many of his famed colleagues from the Institute were pallbearers.
- Frank was buried at Tower Hill cemetery, Koroit, near the tombs of his paternal grandparents.
Macfarlane Burnet Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Macfarlane Burnet across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Macfarlane Burnet worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Macfarlane Burnet who was an Australian virologist famous for his contributions to and research on immunology. He was given the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Kid Facts
- Piling Awards
- Viral Terms
- Selected Words
- Theoretical News
- Job Match
- By the Book
- Thought Beetle
- Virus Workers
- Immuno Potion
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