Charlotte Auerbach


Zoologist & Geneticist

Charlotte Auerbach, known by her friends as 'Lotte', was a German-Jewish zoologist and geneticist who contributed to founding the science of mutagenesis. She became well known after 1942 when she discovered with A. J. Clark and J. M. Robson that mustard gas could cause mutations in fruit flies. She wrote 91 scientific papers, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh as of the Royal Society of London. In 1977, she was awarded the Royal Society's Darwin Medal. Aside her scientific contributions and love of science, she was remarkable in many other ways, including her wide interests, independence, modesty, and transparent honesty.

Auerbach studied Biology and Chemistry at the Universities of Würzburg,Freiburg and Berlin. In 1928 she started postgraduate research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology (Berlin-Dahlem) in Developmental Physiology under Otto Mangold. In 1929 she abandoned her work with Mangold: he would later join the Nazi party,). Following her mother's advice, she left the country in 1933 and fled to Edinburgh in Scotland where she got her PhD in 1935 at the Institute of Animal Genetics in the University of Edinburgh. She would stay affiliated to this Institute throughout her whole career. After being an assistant instructor in animal genetics, she became a lecturer in 1947, Professor of Genetics in 1967 and Professor emeritus in 1969.

Auerbach's dissertation was on the development of legs Drosophila. After her dissertation she became a personal assistant to Crew who connected her to the lively group of scientists he had assembled, and to invited scientists including Hermann Joseph Muller . The famous geneticist and mutation researcher stayed in Edinburgh 1938-1940 and introduced her to mutation research.

She wrote several books to teach Genetics, several of them were translated in other languages.

Auerbach was presented with a number of awards, honors and distinctions, but the greatest reward for herself however was the telegram her hero Hermann Joseph Muller sent after their first striking mutant results in June 1941, which read: "We are thrilled by your major discovery opening great theoretical and practical field. Congratulations."


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