Jeffrey Harborne

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Jeffrey Barry Harborne FRS[1] (1 September 1928, in Bristol – 21 July 2002) was a British chemist who specialised in phytochemistry. He was Professor of Botany at the University of Reading, 1976–93, then Professor emeritus. He contributed to more than 40 books and 270 research papers and was a pioneer in ecological biochemistry, particularly in the complex chemical interactions between plants, microbes and insects.


Harborne was educated at Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire and the University of Bristol, where he graduated in chemistry in 1949. He earned a PhD in 1953 with a thesis on the naturally occurring oxygen heterocyclic compounds with Professor Wilson Baker (1900–2002).[citation needed]


Between 1953 and 1955 he worked as a postdoc with Professor Theodore Albert Geissman in the phenolic plant pigments, including anthocyanins.[citation needed] The identification of these substances, he made use of UV / VIS spectroscopy.

Between 1965 and 1968 Harborne worked as a research assistant at the University of Liverpool. After this, he worked with Vernon Heywood at the University of Reading. Harborne was associate professor and research assistant in the Department of Botany. In 1976 he became professor. Between 1987 and 1993 he was head of the Department of Botany. In 1993 he retired. He had in his tenure at the University of Reading also positions as visiting professor at the University Federal do Rio de Janeiro (1973), the University of Texas at Austin (1976), the University of California at Santa Barbara (1977) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1981).

Harborne investigated the role of flavonoids in interactions between plants and insects. He also investigated the relationship between anthocyanins[2] and the ecology of pollination. He also studied the role of phytoalexins in members of the Fabaceae family (Leguminosae), the rose family (Rosaceae) and the carrot family (Umbelliferae). He has published on chemotaxonomy as in his research articles on the prevention of anthocyanins, flavones and auron in the primrose family (Primulaceae) in snapdragons (Antirrhinum) and a number of other plants. He also published on isoflavones and chemical ecology.

In his book, Phytochemicals Methods: A Guide to Modern Techniques of Plant Analysis Prof. Harborne described a number of analytical methods in plant chemistry that he developed for the system of distribution of anthocyanins in major plant groups. In Comparative Biochemistry of the Flavonoids he described the biochemistry of flavonoids in various plant groups. In the scientific journal Natural Product Reports he wrote a series of review articles about the discovery of anthocyanins and other flavonoids. In his book Introduction to Ecological Biochemistry he described the ecological role of natural substances. The publication of this book is seen as the starting point of the study of environmental chemistry. Developments in the chemical ecology he described in a series of review articles in Natural Product Reports. He was (co) author of about 270 research and review articles. He was also author or editor of some forty books. From 1972 Prof. Harborne was the Executive Editor of the journal Phytochemistry. Between 1986 and 1999 he was chief editor of this prestigious journal. He was the founder of the magazine Analysis Phytochemicals and he was editor of Methods in Plant Biochemistry. Harborne had a number of awards during his lifetime. In 1985 he received the Linnean Society of London, the Linnean Medal for his services to botany. He also received medals from the Phytochemical Society of Europe (PSE Medal) (1986) and the International Society of Chemical Ecology (1993). In 1993 he was awarded the Pergamon Phytochemistry Prize. In 1995 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 2010 the University of Reading's Plant Science Laboratories, where he was Professor, were named the Harborne Building in his honour.


  • Biochemistry of Phenolic Compounds, 1964
  • Comparative Biochemistry of the Flavonoids, 1967
  • Phytochemical Phylogeny, 1970
  • Phytochemical Ecology, 1972
  • Phytochemical Methods, 1973, 3rd edn 1998
  • Introduction to Ecological Biochemistry, 1977, 4th edn 1993
  • Phytochemical Aspects of Plant and Animal Coevolution, 1978
  • Plant Chemosystematics, 1984
  • The Flavonoids: advances in research since 1986, 1994
  • The Handbook of Natural Flavonoids, vol 1 and 2, 1999
  • Phytochemical Dictionary, 1993, 2nd edn 1999
  • Dictionary of Plant Toxins, 1996
  • The Handbook of Flavonoid Pigments, 1999
  • The Handbook of Natural Flavonoids, 1999
  • Chemical Dictionary of Economic Plants, 2001


He was editor-in-chief of the journal Phytochemistry, 1972–98.


  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, 1956
  • Fellow of the Biochemical Society, 1957
  • Plenary Lecturer, IUPAC Natural Products Symposium, 1976
  • Gold Medal in Botany, Linnean Society, 1985
  • Fellow of the Linnean Society, 1986
  • Silver Medal, Phytochemical Society of Europe, 1986
  • Silver Medal, International Society of Chemical Ecology, 1993
  • Fellow of the Institute of Biology, 1994
  • Fellow of the Royal Society, 1995

Personal life[edit]

His niece, Katharine Harborne, studied Horticultural Botany at the University of Reading from 1979 to 1981 and became a plant pathologist researching the epidemiology of Sugarcane Mosaic Virus for the South African Sugar Association at Mount Edgecombe.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Prebble, J. N. (2010). "Jeffrey Barry Harborne. 1 September 1928 -- 21 July 2002". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 56: 131. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2010.0012. 
  2. ^ Cooper-Driver, G. A. (2001). "Contributions of Jeffrey Harborne and co-workers to the study of anthocyanins" (PDF). Phytochemistry. 56 (3): 229–236. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)00455-6. PMID 11243449. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 August 2011.