John Cairns on Mutation Experiments, Harvard University
  John Cairns     Biography    
Recorded: 14 Jul 2000

When I was in Harvard finally there were some experiments I desperately wanted to have done. So [since] I lost my lab, I went and borrowed bench space from an ex-student and actually did the experiment in 1987 when I was sixty-five.

The experiments had to do with bacterial mutations, which I become interested in because I felt not enough was known about the way cells acquire mutations—which is the essence of one form of cancer research. So there’s a whole story about that…

It led to DNA repair. My student was a DNA repair person—the student who lent me the bench space. So this is a whole different story.

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.