Born on October 15th, 1940 in Australia, he grew up in Brisbane, Queensland. Preferred chemistry and physics at high school, but later became more attracted to biology and veterinary medicine. Queensland University accepted him as a candidate to study veterinary science when he was just 17. Not only did the university teach the usual “tools of the trade” for the vets of the future, it also dealt with research in biochemistry, parasitology, genetics, and in the wide-ranging field of infectious diseases. It offered special courses in virology, immunology and oncology.
Following his final exams, he first worked for the department of agriculture, where he diagnosed bacterial infections in cattle, such as trichomoniasis and leptospirosis, and studied their epidemic characteristics. In the 1960s, the state veterinary department wanted to concentrate more on investigating viral illnesses and so it sent Doherty to Melbourne to study microbiology. From here he went to JCSMR (the John Curtin School of Medical Research) in Canberra.
In 1967, he was finally sent to Scotland to the Moredun Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh, where scientists had already succeeded in solving some of the puzzles about slow-virus illnesses, such as scrapie in sheep and mice. Returning to Canberra at the end of 1971, he met a Swiss colleague at JCSMR, Rolf Zinkernagel, who had also recognised the great opportunity for working together with modern immunology from the aspect of human medicine. Both discovered, as their article in “Nature” magazine showed, how immune system cells are able to recognise cells infected with a virus and destroy them.
They soon came forward with their new ideas, and in 1983 were awarded the Paul Ehrlich Prize in Germany. Their results formed the basis for a new approach leading to a better understanding of many infectious diseases and the development of vaccines. He continues to be involved in research in the Department of Immunology at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, where he holds an Endowed Chair, but spends most of his working year in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, Australia.