Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Peter Medawar

Peter Medawar

Overview
Sir Peter Brian Medawar OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 CBE FRS (28 February 1915 – 2 October 1987) was a British biologist
Biologist
A biologist is a scientist devoted to and producing results in biology through the study of life. Typically biologists study organisms and their relationship to their environment. Biologists involved in basic research attempt to discover underlying mechanisms that govern how organisms work...

, whose work on graft rejection and the discovery of acquired immune tolerance was fundamental to the practice of tissue and organ transplants. He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine administered by the Nobel Foundation, is awarded once a year for outstanding discoveries in the field of life science and medicine. It is one of five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, in his will...

 with Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet
Frank Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, , usually known as Macfarlane or Mac Burnet, was an Australian virologist best known for his contributions to immunology....

.

Until he was partially disabled by a cerebral infarction
Cerebral infarction
A cerebral infarction is the ischemic kind of stroke due to a disturbance in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. It can be atherothrombotic or embolic. Stroke caused by cerebral infarction should be distinguished from two other kinds of stroke: cerebral hemorrhage and subarachnoid...

, Medawar was Director of the National Institute for Medical Research
National Institute for Medical Research
The National Institute for Medical Research, commonly abbreviated to NIMR, is a medical research facility situated in Mill Hill, on the outskirts of London, England. It is mainly funded by the Medical Research Council, or MRC, and is its largest establishment and the only one designated as an...

 at Mill Hill
Mill Hill
Mill Hill is a place in the London Borough of Barnet. It is a suburb situated 9 miles north west of Charing Cross. Mill Hill was in the historic county of Middlesex until it was absorbed by London...

.

Medawar was born on 28 February 1915, in Petrópolis
Petrópolis
Petrópolis , also known as The Imperial City of Brazil, is a town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, about 65 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro....

, Brazil (a town 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro) of a Brazilian mother and a Lebanese
Lebanese people
The Lebanese people are a nation and ethnic group of Levantine people originating in what is today the country of Lebanon, including those who had inhabited Mount Lebanon prior to the creation of the modern Lebanese state....

 father.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Peter Medawar'
Start a new discussion about 'Peter Medawar'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Quotations

Today the world changes so quickly that in growing up we take leave not just of youth but of the world we were young in. I suppose we all realize the degree to which fear and resentment of what is new is really a lament for the memories of our childhood.

Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Exeter, 3 September 1969

Simultaneous discovery is utterly commonplace, and it was only the rarity of scientists, not the inherent improbability of the phenomenon, that made it remarkable in the past. Scientists on the same road may be expected to arrive at the same destination, often not far apart.

Peter Medawar, "The Act of Creation" (New Statesman, 19 June 1964)

A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who complies and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles and major discoveries.

(with Jean Medawar), Aristotle to Zoos: A Philosophical Dictionary of Biology (1985)

Creosote has a pretty technological smell.

Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Exeter, 3 September 1969

We wring our hands over the miscarriages of technology and take its benefactions for granted. We are dismayed by air pollution but not proportionately cheered up by, say, the virtual abolition of poliomyelitis.

Presidential Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Exeter, 3 September 1969

Watson's childlike vision makes them seem like the creatures of a Wonderland, all at a strange contentious noisy tea-party which made room for him because for people like him, at this particular kind of party, there is always room.

"Lucky Jim" (New York Review of Books, 28 March 1968)
Encyclopedia
Sir Peter Brian Medawar OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 CBE FRS (28 February 1915 – 2 October 1987) was a British biologist
Biologist
A biologist is a scientist devoted to and producing results in biology through the study of life. Typically biologists study organisms and their relationship to their environment. Biologists involved in basic research attempt to discover underlying mechanisms that govern how organisms work...

, whose work on graft rejection and the discovery of acquired immune tolerance was fundamental to the practice of tissue and organ transplants. He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine administered by the Nobel Foundation, is awarded once a year for outstanding discoveries in the field of life science and medicine. It is one of five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, in his will...

 with Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet
Frank Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, , usually known as Macfarlane or Mac Burnet, was an Australian virologist best known for his contributions to immunology....

.

Until he was partially disabled by a cerebral infarction
Cerebral infarction
A cerebral infarction is the ischemic kind of stroke due to a disturbance in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. It can be atherothrombotic or embolic. Stroke caused by cerebral infarction should be distinguished from two other kinds of stroke: cerebral hemorrhage and subarachnoid...

, Medawar was Director of the National Institute for Medical Research
National Institute for Medical Research
The National Institute for Medical Research, commonly abbreviated to NIMR, is a medical research facility situated in Mill Hill, on the outskirts of London, England. It is mainly funded by the Medical Research Council, or MRC, and is its largest establishment and the only one designated as an...

 at Mill Hill
Mill Hill
Mill Hill is a place in the London Borough of Barnet. It is a suburb situated 9 miles north west of Charing Cross. Mill Hill was in the historic county of Middlesex until it was absorbed by London...

.

Early years


Medawar was born on 28 February 1915, in Petrópolis
Petrópolis
Petrópolis , also known as The Imperial City of Brazil, is a town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, about 65 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro....

, Brazil (a town 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro) of a Brazilian mother and a Lebanese
Lebanese people
The Lebanese people are a nation and ethnic group of Levantine people originating in what is today the country of Lebanon, including those who had inhabited Mount Lebanon prior to the creation of the modern Lebanese state....

 father. His status as a British citizen was acquired at birth: "My birth was registered at the British Consulate in good time to acquire the status of 'natural-born British subject'. Medawar left Brazil for England in 1918, and lived there for the rest of his life.

Medawar was educated at Marlborough College
Marlborough College
Marlborough College is a British co-educational independent school for day and boarding pupils, located in Marlborough, Wiltshire.Founded in 1843 for the education of the sons of Church of England clergy, the school now accepts both boys and girls of all beliefs. Currently there are just over 800...

 and Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

, where he eventually became a Fellow
Fellow
A fellow in the broadest sense is someone who is an equal or a comrade. The term fellow is also used to describe a person, particularly by those in the upper social classes. It is most often used in an academic context: a fellow is often part of an elite group of learned people who are awarded...

.

Achievements


Medawar was professor of zoology at the University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Birmingham, England. It received its royal charter in 1900 as a successor to Birmingham Medical School and Mason Science College . Birmingham was the first Redbrick university to gain a charter and thus...

 (1947–51) and University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

 (1951–62). In 1962 he was appointed director of the National Institute for Medical Research
National Institute for Medical Research
The National Institute for Medical Research, commonly abbreviated to NIMR, is a medical research facility situated in Mill Hill, on the outskirts of London, England. It is mainly funded by the Medical Research Council, or MRC, and is its largest establishment and the only one designated as an...

, and became professor of experimental medicine at the Royal Institution
Royal Institution
The Royal Institution of Great Britain is an organization devoted to scientific education and research, based in London.-Overview:...

 (1977–83), and president of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School
Royal Postgraduate Medical School
The Royal Postgraduate Medical School was an independent medical school, based primarily at Hammersmith Hospital in west London. In 1988, the school merged with the Institute of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, and in 1997 became part of the Imperial College School of Medicine.-History:The medical school...

 (1981–87). Medawar was a scientist of great inventiveness who was interested in many other subjects including opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

, philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and cricket
Cricket
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players on an oval-shaped field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard long pitch. One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the...

.

He was knighted in 1965 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1981.

Later years


In 1959 Medawar was invited by the BBC to present the broadcaster's annual Reith Lectures - following in the footsteps of his colleague, John Zachary Young
John Zachary Young
John Zachary Young FRS , generally known as "JZ" or "JZY", was an English zoologist and neurophysiologist, described as "one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century .....

, who was Reith Lecturer in 1950. For his own series of six radio broadcasts, titled The Future of Man, Medawar examined how the human race might continue to evolve.

Whilst attending the annual British Association meeting in 1969, Medawar suffered a stroke
Stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 when reading the lesson at Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter at Exeter, is an Anglican cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of Exeter, in the city of Exeter, Devon in South West England....

, a duty which falls on every new President of the British Association. It was, as he said, "monstrous bad luck because Jim Whyte Black
James W. Black
Sir James Whyte Black, OM, FRS, FRSE, FRCP was a Scottish doctor and pharmacologist. He spent his career both as researcher and as an academic at several universities. Black established the physiology department at the University of Glasgow, where he became interested in the effects of adrenaline...

 had not yet devised beta-blockers, which slow the heart-beat and could have preserved my health and my career". Medawar’s failing health may have had repercussions for medical science and the relations between the scientific community and government. Before the stroke, Medawar was one of Britain's most influential scientists, especially in the medico-biological field.

After the impairment of his speech and movement Medawar, with his wife's help, reorganised his life and continued to write and do research though on a greatly restricted scale. However, more haemorhages followed and in 1987 Medawar died. He is buried — as is his wife Jean (1913–2005) — at Alfriston in East Sussex.

Views on religion


Medawar declared:
Sir Peter was also a realist in pointing out in his book "Advice to a Young Scientist" that there is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit on himself & his profession particularly when no declaration is called for, than to declare that science knows or will know the answers to all questions worth asking. Sir Peter added that questions that do not admit a scientific answer should not be assumed to be non-questions. "We must turn to imaginative literature & religion for suitable answers!"

Erwin Schrödinger, famous quantum physicist expressed a similar idea in saying: "Science puts everything in a consistent order but is ghastly silent about everything that really matters to us: beauty, color, taste, pain or delight, origins, God & eternity."

Early research


His involvement with what became transplant
Organ transplant
Organ transplantation is the moving of an organ from one body to another or from a donor site on the patient's own body, for the purpose of replacing the recipient's damaged or absent organ. The emerging field of regenerative medicine is allowing scientists and engineers to create organs to be...

 research began during WWII, when he investigated possible improvements in skin grafts. It became focused in 1949, when Burnet advanced the hypothesis that during embryo
Embryo
An embryo is a multicellular diploid eukaryote in its earliest stage of development, from the time of first cell division until birth, hatching, or germination...

nic life and immediately after birth, cells
Cell (biology)
The cell is the basic structural and functional unit of all known living organisms. It is the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and is often called the building block of life. The Alberts text discusses how the "cellular building blocks" move to shape developing embryos....

 gradually acquire the ability to distinguish between their own tissue
Biological tissue
Tissue is a cellular organizational level intermediate between cells and a complete organism. A tissue is an ensemble of cells, not necessarily identical, but from the same origin, that together carry out a specific function. These are called tissues because of their identical functioning...

 substances on the one hand and unwanted cells and foreign material on the other.

With Rupert Billingham, he published a seminal paper in 1951. Santa J. Ono
Santa J. Ono
Santa J. Ono is a Canadian-American biologist and university administrator. He is currently Senior Vice President and University Provost at the University of Cincinnati.-Biography:...

, the American immunologist, has described the enduring impact of this paper to modern science.

Outcome of research


Medawar was awarded his Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 in 1960 with Burnet
Frank Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, , usually known as Macfarlane or Mac Burnet, was an Australian virologist best known for his contributions to immunology....

 for their work in tissue grafting which is the basis of organ transplant
Organ transplant
Organ transplantation is the moving of an organ from one body to another or from a donor site on the patient's own body, for the purpose of replacing the recipient's damaged or absent organ. The emerging field of regenerative medicine is allowing scientists and engineers to create organs to be...

s, and their discovery of acquired immunological tolerance. This work was used in dealing with skin grafts required after burns
Burn (injury)
A burn is a type of injury to flesh caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, light, radiation or friction. Most burns affect only the skin . Rarely, deeper tissues, such as muscle, bone, and blood vessels can also be injured...

. Medawar's work resulted in a shift of emphasis in the science of immunology
Immunology
Immunology is a broad branch of biomedical science that covers the study of all aspects of the immune system in all organisms. It deals with the physiological functioning of the immune system in states of both health and diseases; malfunctions of the immune system in immunological disorders ; the...

 from one that attempts to deal with the fully developed immunity mechanism to one that attempts to alter the immunity mechanism itself, as in the attempt to suppress the body's rejection of organ transplants.

Theory of ageing


Medawar's 1951 lecture An unsolved problem of biology (published 1952) addressed the question of why evolution has permitted us to deteriorate with age, although (1) ageing lowers our individual fitness, and (2) there is no obvious necessity for ageing. His insight was that the force of natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

 is weaker late in life (because the fecundity
Fecundity
Fecundity, derived from the word fecund, generally refers to the ability to reproduce. In demography, fecundity is the potential reproductive capacity of an individual or population. In biology, the definition is more equivalent to fertility, or the actual reproductive rate of an organism or...

 of younger age-groups is overwhelmingly more significant in producing the next generation). What happens to an organism after reproduction is only weakly reflected in natural selection by the effect on its younger relatives. He pointed out that likelihood of death at various times of life, as judged by life tables, was an indirect measure of fitness
Fitness (biology)
Fitness is a central idea in evolutionary theory. It can be defined either with respect to a genotype or to a phenotype in a given environment...

, that is, the capacity of an organism to propagate its genes. Life tables for humans show, for example that the lowest likelihood of death in human females comes at about age 14, which in primitive societies would likely be an age of peak reproduction. This has served as the basis for all three modern theories for the evolution of ageing
Evolution of ageing
Enquiry into the evolution of ageing aims to explain why almost all living things weaken and die with age. There is not yet agreement in the scientific community on a single answer...

.

Books


Medawar was recognized as a brilliant author: Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

 called him "the wittiest of all scientific writers"p.179 and New Scientist
New Scientist
New Scientist is a weekly non-peer-reviewed English-language international science magazine, which since 1996 has also run a website, covering recent developments in science and technology for a general audience. Founded in 1956, it is published by Reed Business Information Ltd, a subsidiary of...

 magazine's obituary called him "perhaps the best science writer of his generation". He was also awarded the 1987 Michael Faraday Prize
Michael Faraday Prize
The Michael Faraday Prize is awarded by the Royal Society of London for "excellence in communicating science to UK audiences". Named after Michael Faraday, the medal itself is made of silver gilt, and is accompanied by a purse of £2500...

 "for the contribution his books had made in presenting to the public, and to scientists themselves, the intellectual nature and the essential humanity of pursuing science at the highest level and the part it played in our modern culture".

His books include The Uniqueness of Man, which includes essays on immunology, graft rejection and acquired immune tolerance; Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought; The Art of the Soluble, a book of essays, later reprinted in Pluto's Republic; Advice to a Young Scientist; Aristotle to Zoos (with his wife Jean Shinglewood Taylor); The Life Science, The Limits of Science and his last, in 1986, Memoirs of a Thinking Radish, an autobiography. One of his best-known essays is his 1961 criticism of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of both Piltdown Man and Peking Man. Teilhard conceived the idea of the Omega Point and developed Vladimir Vernadsky's concept of Noosphere...

's The Phenomenon of Man
The Phenomenon of Man
The Phenomenon of Man is a book written by French philosopher, paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In this work, Teilhard describes evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness.The book was finished in the...

, of which he said: "Its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself".

External links