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Life Fellow

Jim Kaufman was born in New York City, but raised on a farm outside of Seattle, where he did his undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of Washington.

Jim became a PhD student with Jack Strominger in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University starting in 1975. At that time, characterisation of the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) molecules responsible for tissue graft rejection was just beginning, eventually becoming known as MHC (major histocompatibility complex) molecules and found to have crucial roles in the detection and destruction of pathogens. He developed a biochemical purification protocol for some “contaminants” in the HLA preparation, eventually showed that they were what became known as class II molecules, and used proteolysis and limited sequencing to define their domain structure. He realised that this domain organisation of class II molecules was similar to class I molecules but rearranged, and eventually described plausible scenarios for the evolution of their genes from a common ancestor, beginning a life-long fascination with the evolution of immunity.

He was recruited as an independent member scientist to the Basel Institute for Immunology in Switzerland in 1981, where he spent 14 happy years working on organisms from sponges to humans, characterising the MHC of the frog Xenopus, the axolotl (a salamander) and chickens in some detail.

Jim (and his wife Gillian Griffiths, now Professor of Cell Biology and Medicine at the CIMR in the University of Cambridge) moved to the UK in 1995, where he continued research on the chicken MHC at the BBSRC-sponsored Institute for Animal Health. His lab has made major contributions to understanding the structure and function of the chicken MHC, from which he was able to reconstruct some key features of the origin and subsequent evolution of the MHC and the vertebrate adaptive immune system. Jim eventually ran the Division of Immunology, which consisted of 14 labs with 125 staff and students, and became increasingly involved in senior management, PhD student education, and interaction with funding agencies and commercial organisations, as well as peer review of papers (including stints on various editorial boards) and grant applications (including 5 years on a BBSRC funding committee).

Jim was elected as the Professor of Comparative Immunogenetics at the University of Cambridge, starting in the Department of Pathology and the Department of Veterinary Medicine in July 2007. He currently runs a lab of about a dozen people (doing experiments when he can), teaches for various courses as well as organising the Immunology option of the NST (Natural Sciences Tripos) Part II course, and oversees the seminar series of the BSI (British Society of Immunology) regional group, among other activities. He also enjoys time with his family, which now includes two sons, Jonathan (14) and Christopher (11), continual sources of wonder and delight.

He joined Hughes Hall in March 2011.