Anne McLaren

Dame Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren, DBE, FRS, FRCOG (26 April 1927 – 7 July 2007) was a leading figure in developmental biology.[1] Her work helped lead to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).[2] She received many honours for her contributions to science, including her appointment as an officer of the Royal Society. She was the daughter of Henry McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway and Christabel McNaughten.

Dame Anne McLaren

Born26 April 1927
London, England
Died7 July 2007 (aged 80)
England, UK
Alma materOxford University
Spouse(s)Donald Michie
AwardsRoyal Medal (1990)
Japan Prize (2002)
Scientific career
FieldsDevelopmental biology, animal genetics
Academic advisorsJ. B. S. Haldane
Peter Medawar

Early life

McLaren was the daughter of Sir Henry McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway and a Liberal MP, and Christabel Mary Melville MacNaghten. She was born in London and lived there until the war, when her family moved to their estate at Bodnant, North Wales.[3] As a child she appeared in the film version of H.G. Wells' novel Things to Come released in 1936.[4]

She read zoology at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, later gaining an MA. Researching mite infestation of Drosophila under J.B.S. Haldane, she continued her post-graduate studies at University College London from 1949, 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.[2][5][6]

Early career and married life

As a couple, McLaren and Donald Michie worked together at University College, London from 1952 to 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.[5] In 1958, she published a landmark Nature paper with John D. Biggers reporting the first successful development and birth of mice in vitro, a paper which has been called "one of the most significant papers in the history of reproductive biology and medicine".[7] During this period, she also 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.[2][5][6]

Later career

McLaren spent the next 15 years (1959–1974) 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 chimerae.[2][5][6]

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.[5]

McLaren's work often took her outside the University. She was a member of the committee established to inquire into the technologies of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryology, which later produced the Warnock Report. She was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1991–2000.[2]


In 1975, McLaren was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. From 1991 to 1996, she held the position of Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society and from 1992 to 1996 the position of Vice-President; she was the first female officer in the society's 330-year history.[2] 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, and from 1990 to 1995 she was the Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution.

In 1993, she was created a DBE. From 1993 to 1994, she was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1998 she was made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.[6]

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.[2]


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.[8] There is a fund in the name of Anne McLaren for encouragement of scientific study.[2][9]



  • Surani, Azim; Smith, Jim (16 August 2007). "Obituary: Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007)". Nature. 448 (7155): 764–765. doi:10.1038/448764a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 17700691.
  • Rossant, Janet; Hogan, Brigid (3 August 2007). "RETROSPECTIVE: Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007)". Science. 317 (5838): 609. doi:10.1126/science.1147801. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17673646.
  • Vasetzky SG, Dyban AP, Zelenin AV (March 2008). "Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007)". Russian Journal of Developmental Biology. 39 (2): 125–126. doi:10.1007/s11174-008-2010-4. ISSN 1062-3604. PMID 18669298.

See also


  1. Skipper, Magda (2007). "An Interview with Anne McLaren". Nature Reviews Genetics. 8 (6): 412. doi:10.1038/nrg2123. ISSN 1471-0056. PMID 17571324.
  2. The Telegraph obituary for Prof. Dame Anne McLaren, 9 July 2007
  3. Franklin, Sarah (2007). "Obituary: Dame Dr Anne McLaren". Regenerative Medicine. 2 (5): 853–9. doi:10.2217/17460751.2.5.853. PMID 17907937.
  4. Anne McLaren on IMDb.
  5. Smith J. (2007) Prof. Dame Anne McLaren DBE, FRS (Fellow-Commoner 1991) Christ's College Magazine 232: 112–114
  6. Franklin, Sarah (2007). "Obituary: Dame Dr Anne McLaren". Regenerative Medicine. 2 (5): 853. doi:10.2217/17460751.2.5.853.
  7. Leese, Henry (7 April 2018). "In Memoriam Professor John Biggers". Society for Reproduction and Fertility. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  8. "Academic pair killed in car crash". BBC News. 8 July 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  9. "The Anne McLaren Memorial Fund". Christ's College Cambridge. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  10. Letter: Donald Michie and Anne McLaren (Obituary, comment) The Guardian, 11 July 2007.
  11. Int. J. Dev. Biol. 2001, vol.45, pp. 477–82.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir John Bertrand Gurdon
Fullerian Professor of Physiology
Succeeded by
Susan Greenfield
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