Elected F.R.S 1980
Niels Jerne was unquestionably one of the most distinguished immunologists of the present century. Although a relatively late starter—he was approaching 40 before he seriously embarked on a research career—he soon made a major impact that altered the direction of attempts to understand the biology of immune responses. For more than 30 years Niels was preoccupied with the mechanism of specific immune recognition by lymphoid cells, its generation and regulation, and the expression of a diverse repertoire. His analytical thinking is apparent in deeply considered papers, which show a remarkable continuity in the development of ideas from beginning to end of an unconventional career. Niels was predominantly a theoretician who probed deeply into the basic biology of recognition by identifying major questions, which he always tackled with quantitative logic. This orientation also led to the delineation of the first quantitative assay for antibody–secreting cells (plaque–forming cells), which had an enormous impact on the research of others in cellular immunology. The powerful influence he exerted on the thinking, objectives and experimental approaches of his contemporaries and young associates is one measure of his greatness. He created and directed for 10 years the unique Basel Institute for Immunology, entirely funded by Hoffmann LaRoche. He received many honours culminating in the award of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1984.