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Oswald Avery

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Title: Oswald Avery  
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Subject: Fred Neufeld, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Francis Crick, Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, Single strand DNA discovery2
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Oswald Avery

Oswald Avery Jr.
Born Osward Theodore Avery Jr.
October 21, 1877 (1877-10-21)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Died February 20, 1955(1955-02-20) (aged 77)
Nashville, Tennessee
Citizenship USA
Nationality American
Fields Molecular biology[1]
Institutions Rockefeller University Hospital
Known for
Notable awards ForMemRS[2]
Copley Medal (1945)

Oswald Theodore Avery Jr. FRS[2] (October 21, 1877 – February 20, 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 the experiment (published in 1944 with his co-workers Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty) that isolated DNA as the material of which genes and chromosomes are made.[3][4][5]

The Nobel laureate Arne Tiselius said that Avery was the most deserving scientist to not receive the Nobel Prize for his work,[6] though he was nominated for the award throughout the 1930s, '40s and '50s.[7][8]

The lunar crater Avery was named in his honor.


Oswald Avery was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His father was a Baptist minister, who was invited to move to New York City in 1887 to lead a congregation. Avery received his AB degree in 1900 from Colgate University. He earned an M.D. degree from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1904. He practiced medicine in New York City until 1907 when he became a researcher at Hoagland Laboratory in Brooklyn, New York.[9] As an adult, Avery suffered from hyperthyroidism (Graves disease) and he underwent thyroid surgery in 1934.[10] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1936.[11]

Breakthrough discovery

For many years, genetic information was thought to be contained in 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 did not carry the genes 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 youngest brother Roy, a bacteriologist at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine: "It's lots of fun to blow bubbles but it's wiser to prick them yourself before someone else tries to." [12]

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 of their Profiles in Science series.[13]


  1. ^ Barciszewski, J. (1995). "Pioneers in molecular biology: Emil Fischer, Erwin Schrodinger and Oswald T. Avery". Postepy biochemii 41 (1): 4–6.  
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^ Hotchkiss, R. D. (1965). "Oswald T. Avery: 1877-1955". Genetics 51: 1–10.  
  4. ^ "Oswald Theodore Avery, 1877-1955". Journal of general microbiology 17 (3): 539–549. 1957.  
  5. ^ Dochez, A. R. (1955). "Oswald Theodore Avery, 1877-1955". Transactions of the Association of American Physicians 68: 7–8.  
  6. ^ Judson, Horace (2003-10-20). "No Nobel Prize for Whining". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  7. ^ Erica Westly (October 6, 2008). "No Nobel for You: Top 10 Nobel Snubs".  
  8. ^ Reichard, P. (2002). "Osvald T. Avery and the Nobel Prize in Medicine". Journal of Biological Chemistry 277 (16): 13355–13362.  
  9. ^ Lehrer at p. 54-55.
  10. ^ Lehrer at p. 56.
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  12. ^ Davies, Kevin (2001). Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA, The Free Press
  13. ^ "The Oswald T. Avery Collection". National Library of Medicine. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 

Further reading

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