John Cairns on Studying the Vaccinia Virus
  John Cairns     Biography    
Recorded: 14 Jul 2000

So I went back to Australia now an addicted molecular biologist! Also while at Caltech had come under the magnetic influence of Max Delbrück. So when I got back to Australia I did some work with vaccinia virus. It’s interesting—looking back—I find that I forget what it was that I was doing at the time, and I often forget the papers I’ve written and even forgot what it was that they said. So I can hardly expect other people to remember if I don’t remember. Anyway, I went back to Australia and studied how vaccina virus multiplies in cells which turns out to be very interesting and peculiar I won’t go into that now.

John Cairns, physician and molecular biologist, received his degree in medicine from Oxford University in 1946. Cairns worked as a virologist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, at the Virus Research Institute in Entrebbe, Uganda and at the Curtain School of Medical Research in Canberra.

From 1960-61, Cairns spent his sabbatical at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory under Alfred Hershey. He returned to serve as director of the Lab from 1963-1968, while continuing his research on DNA replication and initiating the technique autoradiography. During Cairns’s tenure, he saw Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officially form from an amalgamation of the Long Island Biological Association’s Biological Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Genetics. Cairns remained a staff member until 1972 when he was appointed head of the Mill Hill Laboratory of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Cairns subsequently worked at the Harvard School of Public Health until his retirement in 1991.

In addition to Cairns’s scientific endevours, he is also one of the editors of Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology.