Henry Harris (scientist)

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Henry Harris
Born (1925-01-28)28 January 1925
Died 31 October 2014(2014-10-31) (aged 89)
Fields biology
Alma mater
Thesis Nature of chemical stimuli affecting cells during tissue injury (1953)
Doctoral students Fiona Watt[1]
Notable awards Royal Medal

Sir Henry Harris, FRS, FAA (28 January 1925 – 31 October 2014)[2] was an Australian professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, who led pioneering work on cancer and human genetics in the 1960s.

Early life and education[edit]

Harris was born in Russia in 1925 to a Jewish family. In 1929 the family emigrated to Australia.[3] He studied at Sydney Boys High School from 1937 to 1941.[4] He read modern languages first, in 1941, but was subsequently attracted to medicine through his literary interests. He studied medicine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and began a career in medical research rather than clinical practice.


In the early 1950s, Harris moved to England to study at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford under Howard Florey. He completed his DPhil in 1954 and settled down to a career of academic research. In 1960 he was appointed as head of the new department of cell biology at the John Innes Institute, and in 1964 he succeeded Florey as head of the Dunn School, and in 1979 he was appointed as Oxford's Regius Professor of Medicine succeeding Sir Richard Doll.

Harris's research interests were primarily focused on cancer cells and of their differences from normal cells, and later on the possibilities of genetic modification of human cell lines with material of other species in order to increase the range of genetic markers. Harris and his colleagues developed some of the basic techniques for investigating and measuring genes along the human chromosome.

In 1965 he reported his observation that most nuclear RNA was non-coding, a view that was not widely accepted until years later.[5]

In 1969 Harris showed that when malignant cancer cells were fused with normal fibroblasts, the resulting hybrids were not malignant, thus demonstrating the existence of genes that had the ability to suppress malignancy. Work on these tumour suppressor genes has become a worldwide industry.[citation needed]

In 1983 Harris was elected to the Australian Academy of science as a Corresponding Fellow. In 1993 he was knighted.[3]

Much of Harris's work has been supported by Cancer Research UK (formerly the Cancer Research Campaign).[citation needed]

He died on 31 October 2014, aged 89.


Published works[edit]

  • Harris, Henry (1970). Cell Fusion. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-857344-8. 
  • Harris, Henry (1974). Nucleus and cytoplasm. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-854125-2. 
  • Harris, Henry (1979). Scientific models and man. Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-857168-2. 
  • Harris, Henry (1987). The balance of improbabilities : a scientific life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-858217-X. 
  • Harris, Henry (1993). Hippolyte's club foot : the medical roots of realism in modern European literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-951362-7.  (The Romanes Lecture for 1993).
  • Harris, Henry (1995). The cells of the body : a history of somatic cell genetics. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. ISBN 0-87969-533-1. 
  • Harris, Henry (2000). The Birth of the Cell. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08295-9. 
  • Harris, Henry (2002). Things Come to Life: Spontaneous Generation Revisited. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-851538-3. 
  • Harris, Henry (2006). Remnants of a Quiet Life. Twin Serpents Limited. ISBN 1-905524-27-7. 


  1. ^ Watt, Fiona Mary (2015). "Professor Sir Henry Harris (1925–2014)". Journal of Cell Science. 128 (23): 4253–4253. doi:10.1242/jcs.181859. 
  2. ^ Sir Henry Harris obituary
  3. ^ a b The Guardian. Retrieved 11 December 2014
  4. ^ http://www.shsobu.org.au/wp-content/uploads/imperial-honours.pdf
  5. ^ Bryson, V; Vogel, HJ (Jan 1, 1965). "Evolving Genes and Proteins.". Science. 147 (3653): 469. PMID 17799782. doi:10.1126/science.147.3653.68. 

External links[edit]