1952 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Virus infection genetics

It is given to few to advance fundamentally a field of major scientific and social importance. Sir F. MacFarlane Burnet, working in the field of virus infection, has done so on two separate occasions. Many years ago, he recognized the importance of the ability of bacterial cells to yield, from their constituents, viruses: living units capable of independent activity and of infecting and destroying other cells. Burnet recognized this for what it is, the creation of living particles de nova from apparently lifeless materials. So revolutionary was this concept and so modest its advocate that only after decades did it receive due credit. The observation now stands as a landmark in biology as a whole, the initiation of a new concept of the phenomenon of life.

More recently, Burnet, working with the disease-producing virus of influenza, discovered that its living units are able to merge with virus particles of other types and give rise to new offspring which combine the characteristics of both parents but differ from each. These, in turn, can convey the new characteristics to their progeny. In this observation may lie the explanation of the now mysterious and uncontrollable attacks of virus infection. Carried to its conclusion, it may clarify basically the entire matter of virus behavior and place on an orderly basis the presently confusing aspects of the study of the spread of disease in man.

Great honor is due this scientist who has done so much for all.