Finding cures for children's genetic diseases


Robin Holliday

Dr Robin Holliday FAA FRS (1932-2014)

All of us at Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) were saddened when Dr Robin Holliday passed away on 9 April 2014 at the age of 81. Robin had been a colleague and friend of CMRI for many years. He had been a CMRI seminar speaker on several occasions, and was a valued source of scientific advice to many. 

Robin was a very well-known scientist in the field of DNA repair and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London at the time his wife, Dr Lily Huschtscha, a skilled cell biologist, joined CMRI’s Cancer Research Unit in 1995. So for the past 18 years, Robin has been a member of the Cancer Research Unit family, attending their Christmas parties and other social events, and he and Lily have kindly hosted a number of these events at their home.

In 1964, Robin deduced the existence of a DNA structure now known to be an intermediate when chromosomes break and re-join. This has become known as the "Holliday structure", or junction, and it is important in many biological contexts. His paper describing this discovery has been cited thousands of times in publications world-wide and is one of the few examples in biology where a structure has been named after its discoverer.

In addition to being a scientist, Robin was also a sculptor. He created and donated to CMRI the bronze sculpture of a DNA helix, which resides beside the institute’s main entrance. His other sculptural works have been exhibited in galleries in both Australia and the UK.

Robin’s interest in sculpture dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when he attended classes at an art school in Hertford, UK and also at the Camden Art Centre, Finchley, London. His work is mainly abstract, but sometimes bridges the gap between abstract and representational forms. This is in part due to the influence of organic shapes on his sculpture.

Robin’s wife, Lily, often commented on Robin’s great ability to visualise three-dimensional objects and that it was a boon both to his art and his scientific research. She believes this talent aided his conceptualisation of the Holliday structure which is often difficult for many scientists to picture.

Robin was hugely influential in three major fields of biology: genetics, epigenetics and aging. While retirement allowed Robin more time to pursue his artistic interests, he still remained active in science and published many articles and books, the latest being “Why We Age”, published in 2007.

We will miss Robin—the friend, the scientist and the artist. Our thoughts are with Lily and their daughter, Mira, and the other members of Robin's family at this time.

Read more about Robin’s impressive scientific achievements in this document prepared by the Australian Academy of Science.