Alfred Day Hershey Biography

Alfred Day Hershey was an American bacteriologist and geneticist who won the 1969 Noble Prize in Medicine. This biography of Alfred Hershey provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 4, 1908

Nationality: American

Famous: Geneticists Bacteriologists

Died At Age: 88

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Born in: Owosso, Michigan

Famous as: Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine


Spouse/Ex-: Harriet Davidson Hershey

father: Robert D. Hershey

mother: Alma Wilbur Hershey

children: Peter Manning Hershey

Died on: May 22, 1997

U.S. State: Michigan

More Facts

education: Michigan State University

awards: 1969 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research

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Alfred Day Hershey was an American bacteriologist and geneticist who won the 1969 Noble Prize in Medicine, which he shared with Max Delbrück and Salvador Edward Luria. He discovered the fact that DNA, not protein, was the genetic material of life. His scientific accomplishments root back to his undergraduate years, when he developed a strong interest in bacteriology. He went on to earn a doctorate in his field of interest and was appointed to work with a renowned bacteriophage researcher. He was encouraged to study viruses and soon his experiments resulted in several discoveries that made advancements in understanding of genetic inheritance and change. His comprehensive studies persuaded some other scientists to collaborate with him and together they were able to unveil some important breakthroughs regarding the genetic replication information of viruses. But it was the famous ‘Hershey-Chase experiment’ also known as the ‘blender experiment’, which he conducted with his assistant Martha Chase, that placed him miles ahead of his contemporary scientists. His discovery introduced DNA as the data capsule which contains all the information of evolution. It was a path breaking accomplishment which led to many other advancements and achievements in the field of modern genetics.

Childhood & Early Life
  • After his doctorate, he was appointed as an instructor in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis. He got to work along with Jacques Jacob Bronfenbrenner, a pioneer in the field of bacteriophage research.
  • As Bronfenbrenner was pursuing his research on the physical and lysogenic properties of bacteriophages, he encouraged his faculty members to study the viruses. From 1936 to 1939, he and Bronfenbrenner published papers on the growth of bacterial cultures.
  • He worked for 16 years in the Washington University, from 1934 to 1950, which included teaching and researching. He was promoted as an assistant professor in 1938 and an associate professor in 1942.
  • During the early 1940s, he conducted his own experiments regarding immunologic reaction of phages and other factors that influenced phage infectivity. In 1943, he received an invitation from a biophysicist, Max Delbruck, who was also pursuing the same line of investigation of phage study. Delbruck wanted to discuss the results of his phage experiments with him and Salvador Edward Luria, a biologist.
  • Hershey accepted the invitation and went to Nashville and it was there that the three scientists formed a ‘phage group’, a team of scientists who encouraged research on particular strains of bacteriophage and met every year at Cold Spring Harbor to discuss their work and advances.
  • In 1945, he and Luria discovered, working independently, that the phage viruses and the bacteria they infect can undergo spontaneous mutations. Later, he and Dr. Delbruck also made an important discovery that different strains of bacteriophage can exchange genetic material when both have infected the same bacterial cell, creating a hybrid of the two. This process was referred to as ‘genetic recombination’ by Hershey.
  • Gradually, his study regarding bacteriophage transitioned from immunology to genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology.
  • In 1950, he moved with his assistant, Martha Chase, to Cold Spring Harbor, New York and became a staff scientist in the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Genetics. In 1952, he and Chase performed the ‘Hershey-Chase experiment’ also known as the ‘blender experiment’.
  • In 1962, he became the Director of the Genetics Research Unit of the Carnegie Institution, Cold Springs Harbor and continued his research on phage recombination and genetics.
  • In 1974, he retired from active research but continued visiting his research lab regularly afterwards.
Major Works
  • He is best known for the phenomenal ‘blender experiment’ he conducted with his colleague, Martha Chase, in 1952, which concluded that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), not its associated protein, is the genetic material of life. It derived the fact that DNA is the blue print of every existing lifeform on the planet which laid the groundwork for modern molecular genetics.
Awards & Achievements
  • He became a member of the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ in 1958 and the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ in 1959.
  • In 1958, he received the ‘Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award’ and in 1965, he was honored with the ‘Kimber Genetics Award’.
  • He was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1969 which he shared with Salvador Luria and Max Delbr�ck. They got Nobel Prize for their discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1945, he married Harriet Davidson, popularly known as Jill, and they were blessed with a son, Peter.
  • He died of a heart failure on May 22, 1997 in Syosset, New York. He was buried at St. John’s Church Cemetery, Oyster Bay, New York.

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Alfred Day Hershey

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