One of the Most Famous Scientists in Genetics: A Profile of D. Bernard Amos and the Genetics of Individuality

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D. Bernard Amos is widely considered to be a pioneer in modern cellular immunology, cancer immunology, and immunogenetics. This work on the genetics of individuality provided great insight into the basic mechanisms of immunity and was a strong foundation for his work in transplantation.

He is one of the central figures in the development of allotransplantation, his role in developing methods to match MHC antigens in particular. Furthermore, his research spurred the discovery of H-2 haplotypes, HLA alleles and haplotypes, HLA loci genetic order, the role of histocompatibility antigens in skin graft rejection, and the outcome of kidney allografts. As a result of these efforts, he became the first researcher to use histocompatibility data to select sibling donors for kidney transplantation. He was a prolific collaborator as well; one of his notable collaborative achievements was the identifcation and definition of alleles of the various loci used in research of transplantation, disease association, and immune responses.

Early Life and Early Credentials

Born on April 16, 1923 to a car mechanic and a teacher in Bromley, Kent, England, he was a good student but gave little indication that he was destined to become a great scientist. He was a mischievous child, having once manufactured a contact explosive that burst when the instructor approached the chalkboard, and he enjoyed experimenting with chemicals. Later, he attended the Sir John Cass Technical Institute and was employed as a technician at Burroughs Wellcome.

He then moved to the Ratcliff Infirmary in Oxford, where he remained from 1940 to 1945. At the same time, he worked as an assistant scoutmaster. He returned to London in 1946 to work as a technician for D. Scott Jones in Harley Street before enrolling in Chelsea Polytechnic, where he obtained an M.B. degree in 1947, and subsequently entered Guy’s Medical School shortly thereafter. While at Guy, he was awarded the Golding Bird Prize in Bacteriology and the Leonard Luubock Gold Medal. He earned an M.B. and B.S. from Guy in 1951 and a postgraduate M.D. degree in 1963. He was recruited by Duke University in 1962 as a professor of experimental surgery, where he spent the remainder of his 40-plus year career.

Awards and Achievements

His awards and achievements were many, including: the use of lymphocytes for typing the MHC antigens to match donors and recipients for organ transplantation; defining the role of public and private epitopes in the MHC antigens; exploring the concept of shared epitopes by HLA alleles to explain cross-reactivity; the discovery of MHC-controlled reactivity; recognizing the value of studying different ethnic populations in order to understand polymorphisms in the evolution of the MHC.

He also made great achievements in his roles as a teacher, organizer, and advocate for scientific collaboration. He organized the First International Histocompatibility Workshop in Durham, North Carolina, which fostered previously unheard-of international collaboration, leading to competitive studies that define the MHC (HLA) complex. In 1967 he organized the Transplantation Society; he went on to organize with Dr. David Hume in 1969 the first regional organ-sharing program in the United States. Dr. Amos organized the first World Health Organization Nomenclature Committee, which has been responsible for the naming of HLA specificities and alleles since 1967. Later, he served as president of the American Association of Immunology from 1980 to 1981.


Dr. Bernard Amos, April 16, 1923 - May 15, 2003, by Edmond J. Yunis. Web page:

This post is part of the series: Pioneers in Genetics

This articles series portrays geneticists who have made breakthrough discoveries in the fields of genetics and biotech.

  1. Famous Scientists in Genetics: Hans Eiberg
  2. Pioneers in Genetics: D. Bernard Amos and the Genetics of Individuality
  3. Famous Scientists in Genetics: William Bateson