Dame Anne McClaren FRS

Interviewee Interview date Item Number:
(Medical Sciences Video Archive)
Dame Anne McClaren FRS
in interview with Dr Max Blythe
03.07.1998 MSVA 188

Main subjects: Bodnant; Duncan McLaren (second Baron Aberconway); Henry Pochin; Longstow Hall; Lady Margaret Hall; zoology at Oxford University; Alister Hardy; EB Ford; JBS Haldane; Peter Medawar; Drosophila; evolution and inheritance of acquired characteristics; Kingsley Sanders; neurotropic viruses in mice; Donald Michie.

At the start of the interview Dame Anne McLaren, pioneering embryologist, talks about her childhood in London and Bodnant, Wales, her immediate family and distinguished relations. She then outlines her education at Longstow Hall, Cambridgeshire and her decision to go to university. Initially she wanted to study English literature at Oxford, but found the entrance papers too demanding and decided on zoology instead. After two term's intensive preparation in Oxford she gained a scholarship and was accepted into Lady Margaret Hall. Next, Dame McLaren reflects on her undergraduate years at Oxford. She describes her four-year course, and notes the influence of a number of lecturers including the zoologists Alister Hardy and Willy Holmes. However, it was the geneticist EB Ford - her tutor - whom she found particularly inspiring, and she became interested in genetics and evolution. The interview moves on to Dame McLaren's postgraduate research after 1949. She became the first female Christopher Welch scholar after conducting a mini-research project in JBS Haldane's laboratory at University College, London on the infestation of Drosophila with mites. This and funding from the MRC enabled her to do a DPhil. After a false start working on inheritance of acquired characteristics in rabbits, supervised by Peter Medawar (there were not enough rabbits to continue with experiments), she worked under Kingsley Sanders on neurotropic viruses in the mouse. The interview ends with Dame McLaren discussing her marriage to Donald Michie after they both submitted their DPhils in 1952, and the two of them gaining a grant from the Agricultural Research Committee to work with Peter Medawar at UCL.

Part Two
Main subjects discussed: Donald Michie; University College, London; Royal Veterinary College; lumbar vertebrae maternal effect; embryo transfer; John Biggers; Bob Edwards; ethics and reproductive technology; superovulation and superpregnancy; Institute of Animal Genetics, Edinburgh; Conrad Hal Waddington; immunocontraception; DNA hybridisation; chimeras; Hans Grüneberg.

Part two of this interview starts with Anne McLaren and her husband Donald Michie's work in Peter Medawar's department at University College, London from 1952 and at the Royal Veterinary College from 1955. Dame McLaren discusses their research there: into the lumbar vertebrae maternal effect in mice, which they finally discovered was expressed through the uterus. She also talks about the challenge of being a young mother engaged in lab work, and the support of her colleagues. Next, she describes their pioneering work on embryo transfer in mice. She acknowledges the help of John Biggers in culturing mouse embryos, and Bob Edwards' work on embryos in humans, which led to the birth of the first 'test-tube' baby in 1978. She reflects on the social and ethical implications of the new reproductive technology, and her involvement in a British Association for the Advancement of Science 'think-tank' on the subject, and later in the Warnock Committee. The discussion then moves on to Dame McLaren's research on superovulation and superpregnancy, which she began in London and continued after moving to the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh 1959. She speaks of the achievements of her boss Professor Conrad Hal Waddington. Dame McLaren outlines her research in the 1960s and early '70s, which included work on immunocontraception with Alan Beatty, on DNA hybridisation with Peter Walker, and, most succesfully, on chimeras, collaborating with Hans Grüneberg in investigating skeletal characteristics. The interview ends with Anne McLaren's appointment as director of the MRC Mammalian Development Unit at UCL, London in 1974.

Transcript available