Vale Jeremy David Pickett-Heaps

Jeremy Pickett-Heaps at the Robertson Symposium held in RSBS in 2000 (photo credit ANU). Jeremy Pickett-Heaps
21 April 2021

Jeremy David Pickett-Heaps FAA, FRS died on 11 April 2021 aged 80. He was born to Australian parents in Bombay, India in 1940 and educated at Geelong Grammar School and Clare College, Cambridge University, obtaining his PhD under D H Northcote FRS in 1965. He joined The John Curtin School of Medicine in the Australian National University and soon transferred to the then new Research School of Biological Science before becoming Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder (1970-1988). He returned to Australia as Professor of Botany in the University of Melbourne and stayed until his retirement in 2002. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in 1992 and to the Royal Society in 1995.

His outstanding record of fundamental discoveries started during his PhD, which was ostensibly to study biosynthesis of plant cell walls but turned to electron microscopy. He pioneered the use of autoradiography at the electron microscope level and was the first to demonstrate the role of the Golgi apparatus in processing and delivering polysaccharides. In the process he discovered, documented and named the “Pre-prophase Band” of microtubules, with its still mysterious property of predicting the site and plane of division in plant cells, a crucial aspect of morphogenesis. In ANU he embarked on comprehensive studies of ultrastructure and development of algae, leading to a new understanding of the evolution of the land plants, a landmark contribution in the plant sciences, summarised in his classic book “Green Algae” (1975) and now confirmed and fleshed out by DNA sequencing. The same programme led him to enunciate the concept of the “microtubule organising centre”, thus opening a vast new area of research for all cell biologists. In the USA he turned to the mechanism of mitosis and the interaction of microtubules with chromosomes, exploiting particularly the unique mitotic spindle organisation of diatoms, which gave new insights into microtubule dynamics and force generation. He was honoured with the lifetime “Award of Excellence” from the Phycological Society of America in 2008, and in further recognition several of this colleagues and friends named a most unusual green alga after him, Microrhizoidea pickettheapsiorum.

He was a supremely skilled microscopist and had a keen and perceptive eye for the beauty of nature at all levels. In his later work he sought to communicate it through the production of a series of magnificent Laser disc and DVD presentations filled with fascinating movies of microscopic organisms and their biology, never before available to students or the general public. In this he was aided by his wife Julianne, who did much of the editing and running of the company they founded, “Cytographics”. In retirement that activity extended to wonderful depictions of native bird behaviour, obtained by patient filming in habitats near his home in Mallacoota, despite the depredations of Parkinson’s Disease, an affliction that marred his last 18 years. Many of his movies are available publicly on YouTube.

Jeremy’s other great passions in life, besides family, included surfing and gliding when he was younger, teaching himself boogie woogie piano (he often entertained at home and scientific meetings), downhill skiing during his years in Colorado. An inspiration to many under- and post-graduates in Melbourne and elsewhere, he will be greatly missed by his friends, colleagues and former students. His unmatched enthusiasm and curiosity along with his wit and good humour will always be with us. He is survived by his wife, four children and five grandchildren.

Jeremy selected the following publications (numbers are as in his complete list) as being especially significant:-


  1. "Green Algae: Structure, Reproduction and Evolution in Selected Genera". Sinauer Assoc, Stamford, CT, USA; 606 pages, 1975.

Laser Video Discs

  1. " LIVING CELLS: Structure, Diversity and Evolution". Sinauer Assoc., Sunderland, Mass., USA, 1993.
  2. “CELLULAR EVOLUTION in the Green Algae". Cytographics, Ascot Vale, Australia; 1995.

Selected Publications

  1. Northcote, D.H. and J.D. Pickett-Heaps (1966). A function of the golgi apparatus in polysaccharide synthesis and transport in the root cap cells of wheat. Biochem. J. 98: 159-167.
  2. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. and D.H. Northcote (1966). Cell division in the formation of the stomatal complex in the young leaves of wheat. J. Cell. Sci. 1: 121-128.
  3. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. (1969). Preprophase microtubules and stomatal differentiation in Commelina cyanea. Aust. J. Biol. Sci. 22: 375-391.
  4. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. (1969). The evolution of the mitotic apparatus: an attempt at comparative ultrastructural cytology in dividing plant cells. Cytobios 3: 257-280.
  5. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. and H.J. Marchant (1972). The phylogeny of the green algae. A new proposal. Cytobios. 6: 255-264.
  6. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. and A.S. Bajer (1978). Mitosis: An argument for multiple mechanisms achieving chromosomal movement. Cytobios. 19: 171-180.
  7. Edgar, L.A. and J.D. Pickett-Heaps (1984). Diatom locomotion. In Prog. Phycol. Res. (F.E. Round and D.J. Chapman, eds.), Biopress Ltd.; 3:47-88.
  8. Pickett-Heaps, J.D., A.M. Schmid and L.A. Edgar (1990). The cell biology of diatom valve formation. In "Progress in Phycological Research" 8: 1-168.
  9. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. (1991). Cell division in diatoms. Int. Rev. Cytol. 123: 63-107.
  10. Wetherbee, R., Andersen, R.A. & Pickett-Heaps, J.D. (1994). Editors: "The Protistan Cell Surface". Protoplasma (Sp. Edn.) 181, #1-4; 290 pages.
  11. Pickett-Heaps, J.D., Forer, A. & Spurck, T. (1996). Rethinking anaphase: where Pac-Man fails and why a role for the spindle matrix is likely. Protoplasma 192: 1-10.
  12. Pickett-Heaps, J.D., Forer, A. & Spurck, T. (1997). Traction fibre: toward a “tensegral" model of the spindle. Cell Motility and the Cytoskeleton 37: 1-6.
  13. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. & West, J.A. (1998). Time-lapse video observations on sexual plasmogamy in the red alga Bostrychia. Europe J. Phycol. 33:43-56.
  14. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. & Klein, A.G. (1998). Tip growth in plant cells may be amoeboid and not generated by turgor pressure. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 265: 1453-1459.
  15. Pickett-Heaps, J.D., Gunning, B.E.S., Brown, R.C. , Lemmon, B.E. & Cleary, A.L. (1999). The cytoplast concept in plant cells: cytoplasmic domains and the evolution of spatially organised cell division. Amer. J. Botany 85: 153-172.
  16. Pickett-Heaps, J.D., West, J.A., Wilson, S.M. & McBride, D.L. (2001). Time-lapse video microscopy of cell (spore) movement in red algae. Eur. J. Phycology. 36: 9-22.
  17. Pickett-Heaps, J.D. & Forer, A. (2001) "PAC-MAN" does not resolve the enduring problem of anaphase chromosome movement. Protoplasma 215: 16-20
  18. Hepler, P.K., Pickett-Heaps, J.D., and Gunning, B.E.S. (2013). Some retrospectives on early studies of plant microtubules. The Plant Journal 75. 189-201, 2013.

    Prepared by Brian Gunning