Rediscover STEAM
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Rediscover STEAM

Anne McLaren, Geneticist & Reproductive Biologist

Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren was born on April 26, 1927 in London to Henry McLauren and Christabel McNaughten. She was raised between London and Bodnant, Wales. Anne went on to study zoology at Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall) and pursued a postgraduate and doctorate degree under the two most prominent biologists of the time — JBS Haldane and Peter Medawar. Her thesis was focused on murine neurotropic viruses and how they access the nervous system. This research was important and timely as there was a polio epidemic in the United Kingdom during its publication.

That year, she married her husband, Donald Michie, and they both moved to University College London (UCL) and started research into the mechanisms driving the embryonic skeletal development of mice. She published a landmark paper in 1958 with John Biggers in the major journal Nature. They then both moved to the Royal Veterinary College where she managed the first successful in vitro culture and uterine implantation of mouse embryos, which were also successfully carried to term. This was the first evidence that proved that it is possible to fertilize an egg outside the mother and create a healthy embryo.

She moved on to do significant work in the development of mammalian chimeras — animals made of cells originating from two zygotes — at the University of Edinburgh until 1974. She was made a fellow at the Royal Society in 1975, becoming the first female officer, foreign secretary, and vice president in its then 331-year-old history. She then returned to UCL as the director of the Medical Research Council’s Mammalian Development Unit for 18 years, then retired, but served as a principal researcher at the Wellcome Trust for 15 years. In 2004, she co-founded the Frozen Ark, where the genetic material of endangered animals has been frozen so it can be studied and potentially cloned. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1993, a prestigious honor.

Dame Anne McLaren and Donald Michie

She received many awards during her lifetime, including the March of Dimes in 2002 and the Japan Prizes in 2007. She also worked in the public eye in ethical discussions on science in the Warnock Committee in order to make recommendations on regulations concerning human fertilization and embryology after the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978. She died in 2007 in a car accident near London with her ex-husband Donald Michie, whom she remained close with after their divorce, at the age of 80. McLaren was one of the most highly respected reproductive biologists of the 20th century.

by Daisy O’Connor

References

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica “Dame Anne McLaren”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020.

The Gurdon Institute “Anne McLaren”. University of Cambridge Gurdon Institute, 2020.

Micheal Marshall “Anne McLaren”. New Scientist, 2020.

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