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Harris, Albert K.

Professor (Emeritus)
103 Wilson Hall

Selected References | Courses | Research

Albert Harris is an embryologist interested in the “amoeboid” locomotion of the body’s component cells, and the ways in which cell movements generate anatomical patterns.

He invented and developed the elastic substratum method, by which he (followed by later researchers) used silicone rubber and various gels embedded with particles to measure and map locations, strengths and directions of cell traction forces at the micrometer level. He also co-discovered focal adhesions, retrograde surface transport, that ruffling is upfolding, that sponges crawl, that sponge cells continually rearrange even without dissociation, and has collaborated on mathematical and computer simulation studies of cell migration and cell division. Videos from this research are posted under “research” above.

His graduate students have worked on diverse topics ranging from the special adhesive properties of macrophages, the generation of tendons by cellular forces, the locomotion of sponges, cellular responses to electric fields, and the effects of tumor promoters on cell contractility.

He was raised in Durham and Wrightsville Beach NC., and in Norfolk, VA., and for a long time was the one and only graduate of The Norfolk Academy ever to attend Swarthmore College. He did his PhD. with J. P. Trinkaus at Yale, and was a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation at Cambridge (England) working under Michael Abercrombie, FRS. He is the son of Kenneth Harris, the prominent artist, author and spearhead of the Civil Rights Movement in Tidewater, Virginia. His family were plaintiffs in the (1958-9) Federal and State court cases that forced the racial integration of the Virginia Public Schools. His wife Elizabeth Holder Harris has been a leader in molecular genetics research on chloroplasts and the alga Chlamydomonas. They have three children, one of whom also has a PhD in Biological Research, and another of whom is a teacher. His special interests are whitewater canoeing, turtles and computer programming.

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