Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet was an Australian virologist. He won a Nobel Prize in 1960 for predicting acquired immune tolerance. His major achievements included discovering the causative agents of Q-fever and psittacosis. Modern methods for producing influenza vaccines are still based on Burnet’s work improving virus growing processes in hen’s eggs.
About Macfarlane Burnet in brief
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet was an Australian virologist. He won a Nobel Prize in 1960 for predicting acquired immune tolerance. He is best known for developing the theory of clonal selection. His major achievements in microbiology included discovering the causative agents of Q-fever and psittacosis. Modern methods for producing influenza vaccines are still based on Burnet’s work improving virus growing processes in hen’s eggs. For his contributions to Australian science, he was made the first Australian of the Year in 1960, and in 1978 a Knight of the Order of Australia. In addition to the Nobel, he received the Lasker Award and the Royal and Copley Medal from the Royal Society, honorary doctorates, and distinguished service honours from the Commonwealth of Nations and Japan. He was the most highly decorated and honoured scientist to have worked in Australia. He died in Melbourne, Australia, on November 25, 2013. He had a son, Frank, and a daughter, Hadassah, who were all born in the 1920s and 30s. His father, Frank Burnet, a Scottish emigrant to Australia, was the manager of the Traralgon branch of the Colonial Bank. His mother had a mental disability that consumed most of her time and the family saw Doris’s condition as an unspoken stigma, discouraging the other children from inviting friends home, lest they come across the eldest daughter. Mac was distant from his father, who liked to spend his free time fishing and playing golf. He preferred bookish pursuits from a young age and was not enamoured of sport, and by the age of eight was old enough to analyse his father’s character.
Mac disapproved of Frank and saw him as a hypocrite who espoused moral principles and put on a facade of uprightedness, while associating with businessmen of dubious ethics. He did not enjoy his time at Geelong College, one of Victoria’s most exclusive private schools, and found his fellow students to be arrogant and boorish. He attended Sunday school at Terang State School, where the priest encouraged him to pursue academic studies and awarded him a book on ants as a reward for his academic studies. He also joined the Scouts in 1910 and enjoyed all outdoor activities. While living in Terang, he began to collect beetles and study biology. He read biology articles in the Chambers’s Encyclopaedia, which introduced him to the work of Charles Darwin. The Burnets moved to Terang in 1909, when Frank was posted to be the bank manager there, having declined a post in London. He went on to conduct pioneering research in immunology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, and served as director of the Institute from 1944 to 1965. From 1965 until his retirement in 1978, Burnet worked at the University of Melbourne. In 1913 he was the only boarder with a full scholarship with a scholarship. He later became a member of the Australian Academy of Science, and was its president from 1965 to 1969.