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Anne McLaren: Why a pioneering British scientist’s 94th birthday is celebrated today with a Google Doodle

Dame Anne’s most notable work was helping bring about human in vitro fertilization (IVF) – an achievement that enabled thousands of people to become parents

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates British biologist Dame Anne McLaren, on what would have been her 94th birthday. Dame Anne’s most notable work was helping bring about human in vitro fertilization (IVF) – an achievement that has enabled thousands of people around the world to fulfill their dream of having a child. In 1991, she became the first woman to ever hold a position in The Royal Society – the world’s oldest scientific institution.

Early career

Dame Anne was the daughter of Sir Henry McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway and a Liberal Member of Parliament, and Christabel MacNaghten.

She studied zoology at Oxford University before working with mice to better understand the biology of mammalian development.

In 1958 she published a paper about her successful attempts to develop mouse embryos in vitro – which showed that it was possible to create healthy embryos outside the womb.

The article has been called “one of the most important articles in the history of reproductive biology and medicine”.

IVF

Dame Anne spent the next 15 years at the Institute of Animal Genetics studying a variety of topics related to fertility, development, and epigenetics.

It was not until the late 1970s that scientists began to use IVF in humans. The practice was initially highly ethically controversial, and Dame Anne was appointed as the sole research scientist on the Warnock Committee, a government body dedicated to developing policies related to advancements in IVF technology and embryology.

Her board of experts was instrumental in the creation of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990 – the legislation limiting the in vitro culture of human embryos to 14 days after embryo creation.

Legacy

In 1991, Dame Anne was appointed Secretary of State of The Royal Society – becoming the first woman to ever hold a position within the institution’s 330-year history and later becoming vice president of the institution.

She became a lady because of her contribution to science in 1993.

In 1994, the British Association for the Advancement of Science – an institution dedicated to promoting science to the general public now known as the British Science Association – elected her president.

Dame Anne died in 2007 at the age of 80, when she and her ex-husband Donald Michie were killed in a traffic accident.