University of Cambridge

Pioneer.
Geneticist Anne McLaren died in a car accident last weekend, after five decades in science.

Car Accident Claims Renowned Geneticist

Anne McLaren, a geneticist and prominent voice in the debate over the ethics of stem cell research, died in a car crash outside London on 7 July. McLaren, 80, was based at the University of Cambridge, U.K., and helped tease apart the mechanics of mammalian development during a career that spanned more than 50 years. Also killed in the crash was McLaren's ex-husband Donald Michie, 84, a researcher in artificial intelligence, who during World War II helped to crack a German teleprinter cipher. The two remained close after their divorce in 1959, and according to the Cambridge Evening News were en route from Cambridge to their London home when the crash occurred.

Still active in the lab despite her age, McLaren's most recent research focused on mouse primordial germ cells, the embryonic cells that give rise to egg and sperm cells. "She could truly be considered one of the [pioneers] of modern mammalian germ cell genetics," says Renee Reijo Pera, a developmental biologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

McLaren's broad range of research-- including genetics, developmental biology, and reproductive biology--led her to tackle the social and ethical issues surrounding human embryology research. She was a member of the Warnock Committee, which helped shape the U.K.'s landmark 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and for 10 years served on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which the Act established to regulate the use of human tissue. She believed that full disclosure of the potential risks and benefits associated with medical advances was the best way to gain public acceptance of stem cell and other controversial research.

McLaren was also the first-ever female officer of the Royal Society in London, holding the post of Foreign Secretary from 1991 to 1996, as well as that of vice president.

"The death of Anne McLaren is a tragedy and a great loss to science," Martin Rees, the president of the Royal Society, said in a statement. "She was one of the U.K.'s leading scientists--and none was held in more universal respect and affection."

The pair leaves behind three grown children, and Michie leaves behind one child from a previous marriage.

Posted in Scientific Community