Oswald Avery

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Oswald Avery
Oswald T. Avery portrait 1937.jpg
Oswald Avery in 1937
Born October 21, 1877 (1877-10-21)
Died 2 February 1955 (1955-02-03)
Nationality Canada
Citizenship American
Known for DNA transmits heredity
Scientific career
Fields molecular biology
Institutions Rockefeller University Hospital

Oswald Theodore Avery (October 21, 1877 – 2 February 1955) was a Canadian-born American physician and medical researcher. The major part of his career was spent at the Rockefeller University Hospital in New York City. Avery was one of the first molecular biologists and a pioneer in immunochemistry, but he is best known for his discovery in 1944, with his co-workers Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, that DNA is the material of which genes and chromosomes are made.

The Nobel laureate Arne Tiselius said that Avery was the most deserving scientist not to receive the Nobel Prize for his work.[1]

The lunar crater Avery was named in his honor.

Breakthrough discovery

For many years, genetic information was thought to be contained in cell protein. Continuing the research done by Frederick Griffith in 1927, Avery worked with MacLeod and McCarty on the mystery of inheritance. He had received emeritus status from the Rockefeller Institute in 1943, but continued working for five years, proving that not all breakthrough discoveries are achieved by younger people (by this time he was in his late sixties). Techniques were available to remove various organic compounds from bacteria, and if the remaining organic compounds were still able to cause R strain bacteria to transform then the substances removed couldn't be the carrier of genes. S strain bacteria first had the large cellular structures removed. Then they were treated with protease enzymes, which removed the proteins from the cells before the remainder was placed with R strain bacteria. The R strain bacteria transformed, meaning that proteins didn't carry the genes for causing the disease. Then the remnants of the R strain bacteria were treated with a deoxyribonuclease enzyme which removed the DNA. After this treatment, the R strain bacteria no longer transformed. This indicated that DNA was the carrier of genes in cells.

Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase furthered Avery's research in 1952 with the Hershey-Chase experiment. These experiments paved the way for Watson and Crick's discovery of the helical structure of DNA, and thus the birth of modern genetics and molecular biology. Of this event, Avery wrote in a letter to his brother, "It's lots of fun to blow bubbles but it's wiser to prick them yourself before someone else tries to."

Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg stated that Avery and his laboratory provided "the historical platform of modern DNA research" and "betokened the molecular revolution in genetics and biomedical science generally.


The collected papers of Avery are stored in two locations: the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and the Rockefeller Archive

Many of his papers, poems, and hand written lab-notes are available at the National Library of Medicine in the Oswald T. Avery Collection, the first[2] of their Profiles in Science series.

His most important paper where he shows that DNA is the substance that makes up the genes is available on line: Avery, Oswald T., Colin M. MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty. Studies on the Chemical Nature of the Substance Inducing Transformation of Pneumococcal Types. Journal of Experimental Medicine 79, 2 (February 1, 1944): 137-158.


  1. ^ Judson, Horace (2003-10-20). "No Nobel Prize for Whining". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
  2. ^ Profiles in Science: Previous What's New Items

Further reading

  • René Dubos, The Professor, the Institute, and DNA: Oswald T. Avery, His Life and Scientific Achievements, 1976, Paul & Company, ISBN 0-87470-022-1


Other sources

External links