John W. Hastings

John Woodland Hastings, 87, a biologist who is credited as the founder of circadian biology, died August 6 in Cambridge from pulmonary fibrosis.

A summer resident of Woods Hole, Dr. Hastings was a longtime teacher and investigator at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Dr. Hastings, who was known as Woody, grew up in Seaford, Delaware. He was the son of Vaughan A. Hastings and Katherine Anne Stevens.

After graduating from Lenox School in 1944, Dr. Hastings enlisted in the US Navy V-12 medical officers training program at Swathmore College. Although he would eventually leave the Navy, he graduated from Swathmore in 1947.

After a brief period teaching biology at the Collège Cevenol in southern France, he attended Princeton University as a graduate student in 1948. During this time, he worked under E. Newton Harvey, a leading researcher in the field of bioluminescence, before earning his doctorate in 1951.

It was while working as a graduate student that he first came to the MBL in 1949. He continued to work at the MBL in many capacities over the next 50 years. He directed the summer physiology course from 1962 to 1966 and served on the course faculty from 1961 to 1971. He also directed and taught the microbial ecology and marine ecology courses in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was also an MBL trustee from 1967 to 1974.

“Woody’s impact on the advanced courses and general research and administrative directions of MBL was felt throughout his many years of dedicated affiliation with MBL,” said Shinya Inoué, a colleague of Dr. Hastings at the MBL.

A founder in the field of circadian biology, Dr. Hastings worked with his former graduate student, James G. Morin, on coelenterate luminescence systems and green fluorescent protein in the 1960s and early 1970s. He also worked to determine the structure of the luciferin in dinoflagellates with fellow MBL researcher Osamu Shimomura and did research on jet lag’s effect on the body’s biological clock.

In addition to his work with the MBL, Dr. Hastings was a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University from 1951 to 1953 before joining the faculty at Northwestern University, where he began studies on marine plankton, fireflies, and biological clocks. He later joined the biochemistry department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1957, and in 1966 joined the faculty of Harvard University in the department of molecular and cellular biology, where he was the Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences, emeritus.

Dr. Hastings was widely published, having written over 430 peer-reviewed publications. A fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2003.

In 2006, Dr. Hastings was awarded the Farrel Prize in Sleep Medicine.

Dr. Hastings’s wife, Hanna Machlup Hastings, died in 2009. They were married for 56 years.

He leaves his companion, Barbara Cheresh; four children; and his five grandchildren.

A memorial service at Pforzheimer House at Harvard University is planned for October.

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