Dame Anne McLaren

26 April 1927 – 7 July 2007


Dame Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren, DBE, FRS, FRCOG was a leading figure in developmental biology. Her work helped lead to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF). She received many honours for her contributions to science, including being made an officer of the Royal Society. She was the daughter of Henry McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway and Christabel McNaughten.

She studied zoology at Oxford University, gaining entrance to Lady Margaret Hall and obtaining an MA. Researching mite infestation of Drosophila under J. B. S. Haldane, she continued postgraduate studies at University College London, first under Peter Medawar on the genetics of rabbits and then on neurotropic murine viruses under Kingsley Sanders. She obtained her D.Phil in 1952 and married fellow student Dr Donald Michie on 6 October 1952.

As a couple, McLaren and Donald Michie worked together at University College, London from 1952–1955, and afterwards at the Royal Veterinary College, on the variation in the number of lumbar vertebrae in mice as a function of maternal environment. McLaren would later take up research on fertility in mice, including superovulation and superpregnancy. During this period, they had three children:

However, the marriage ended in divorce in 1959, and McLaren moved to the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh to continue her research. The couple remained on good terms; Michie also moved to Edinburgh. The experience of raising children as a single career parent made McLaren a strong advocate for government assistance towards childcare.

McLaren spent the next 15 years (1959–1977) at the Institute of Animal Genetics, studying a variety of topics related to fertility, development and epigenetics, including the development of mouse embryonic transfer, immunocontraception, and the skeletal characteristics of chimeras. In 1974, she left Edinburgh to become the Director of the MRC Mammalian Development Unit in London. In 1992, she retired from the Mammalian Development Unit and moved to Cambridge, joining the Wellcome/CRC Institute, later the Gurdon Institute. She was made a Fellow-Commoner of Christ's College, Cambridge in 1991.

In 1975, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and from 1991 to 1996, she held the position of Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, the first female officer in the society's 300-year history. In 1986, she was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for her pioneering work on fertility. In 1989 she presented the Ellison-Cliffe Lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine. In 1993, she was created a DBE. From 1993 to 1994, she was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

McLaren was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics 1991-2000. In 2002, she was awarded the Japan Prize with Andrzej K. Tarkowski for their contributions to developmental biology and in 2007 she was awarded the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.

McLaren (aged 80) and her ex-husband Donald Michie (aged 83) were killed in a road accident on 7 July 2007, when their car left the M11 motorway as they travelled from Cambridge to London.


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