Muriel Robertson FRS was a protozoologist and bacteriologist and made key discoveries of the life cycle of trypanosomes.
Robertson was born in Glasgow where she was educated privately and then attended the University of Glasgow obtaining a Master of Arts in 1905. An early project was a study of Pseudospora volvocis, a protozoan parasite of the alga Volvox.
In 1907 she was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship and moved to Ceylon to study trypanosome infections in reptiles. She then joined the staff at the Lister Institute in London under Professor Edward Alfred Minchin from 1910–11. She spent time as protozoologist to what was then the Uganda Protectorate from 1911–14 where she researched the lifecycle of Trypanosoma gambiense (which causes African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness) in blood and in its insect carrier, the tsetse fly, publishing her path-breaking results. In 1923 she obtained her Doctor of Science from Glasgow for a thesis entitled A study of the life histories of certain trypanosomes.
Robertson returned to the Lister Institute shortly before the First World War broke out in 1914. Save for a period at the Institute of Animal Pathology in Cambridge during the Second World War, she worked at the Lister Institute until 1961. Most of her work was as a protozoologist, but she worked on bacteriology during both world wars, and in particular on anaerobic Clostridia infection of war wounds, the cause of gas-gangrene.
She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947, in the same year as Dorothy Hodgkin, and only two years after the first women, Marjory Stephenson and Kathleen Lonsdale, were elected. The following year, she became an Honorary Doctor of Law (LLD) at the University of Glasgow. She was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and of the Institute of Biology, and a member of the Pathological Society, the Society for Experimental Biology and the Medical Research Club. She was a founder of the Society of General Microbiology and served on its council from 1945 to 1948.
Robertson worked at the Lister Institute till 1961, long after officially retiring in 1948. She suffered from acute glaucoma in the 1950s and one eye was removed. She continued work in Cambridge for a short period before finally retiring to the family estate in Limavady in Northern Ireland. After a period of illness, she died at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry.
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