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Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet

(1899—1985) virologist and immunologist

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Australian physician and virologist who, with Sir Peter Medawar, won the 1960 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that immunological tolerance to tissue transplants can be acquired. He was knighted in 1951 and was appointed to the OM in 1958.

Burnet graduated in medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1923 and after a short period as resident pathologist at the Melbourne Hospital (1923–24) he went to London to carry out research at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. Back in Australia, he became assistant director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (1928–31) and was later director (1944–65).

Burnet's most significant contribution to medical science, confirmed by Medawar, was his discovery of acquired immunological tolerance; i e animals and man can acquire the ability to tolerate foreign tissues. His other notable discoveries were a means of identifying bacteria by the viruses (bacteriophages) that attack them and a technique for culturing viruses in chick embryos that is now routine laboratory practice. He contributed to the current knowledge of influenza infection and isolated the organism (Rickettsia burneti) that causes Q fever. His publications include Biological Aspects of Infectious Disease (1940), Viruses and Man (1953), Enzyme Antigen and Virus (1956), Clonal Selection Theory of Acquired Immunity (1959), and his autobiography, Changing Patterns (1968).

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