Richard Henderson (biologist)

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Richard Henderson FRS (born 19 July 1945)[1] is a Scottish molecular biologist and biophysicist and pioneer in the field of electron microscopy of biological molecules.


Starting in 1975 with Nigel Unwin, Henderson studied the structure of the membrane protein bacteriorhodopsin (bR) by electron microscopy. A seminal paper in Nature by Henderson and Unwin (1975) established a low resolution structural model for bR showing the protein to consist of 7 transmembrane helices. This paper was important for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it showed that membrane proteins had well defined structures and that transmembrane alpha-helices could occur. After 1975 Henderson worked without Unwin on the structure of bR.

In 1990 Henderson published an atomic model of bR by electron crystallography in the Journal of Molecular Biology. This model was the second ever atomic model of a membrane protein. The techniques Henderson developed for electron crystallography are still in use. More recently, Dr. Henderson has devoted his attention to single particle electron microscopy: he was an early proponent of the idea that single particle EM is capable of determining atomic resolution models for proteins, explained in a 1995 paper in Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics. He made seminal contributions to many of the approaches used in single particle EM, including pioneering the development of direct electron detectors that recently allowed single particle cryo-EM to achieve this goal.

Although Henderson typically worked independently, he trained a number of scientists who have gone on to independent research careers. These scientists include:
David Agard, now at UCSF
Per Bullough, now at Sheffield
Nikolaus Grigorieff, now at HHMI Janelia Research Campus
Reinhard Grisshammer, now at NIH
Edmund Kunji, now at MRC MBU
Peter Rosenthal, now at MRC NIMR
John Rubinstein, now at SickKids Research Institute
Gebhard Schertler, now at ETH Paul Scherrer Institute
Christopher Tate, now at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Vincenz Unger, now at Northwestern University


Henderson was educated at Boroughmuir High School and Edinburgh University (B.Sc. Hons in Physics, 1st Class). He completed his PhD research under the supervision of David Blow at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology and received the degree from Cambridge University in 1969. He has worked at the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in Cambridge since 1973, and was its director between 1996 and 2006.



  1. HENDERSON, Dr Richard, Who's Who 2014, A & C Black,2014; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014

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