Who Was Anne McLaren? Google Doodle Celebrates Scientist and IVF Pioneer

Anne McLaren, the British scientist and author, is celebrated in today's Google Doodle on what would have been her 94th birthday. McLaren is considered to be one of the most significant reproductive biologists of the 20th century due to her fundamental research on embryology, which was crucial to the development of IVF technology.

Anna McLaren was born in London on April 26, 1927. In 1936, she played a small role in the H.G. Wells sci-fi movie, The Shape of Things to Come, and in her scene, which was set in 2054, her great-grandfather lectured her on the advancement of space technology that had put mice on the moon. McLaren would later credit this experience as an early inspiration for her love of science.

She went on to study zoology at the University of Oxford where she learned from biologists including Peter Medawar, a Nobel laureate for his research on the human immune system. McLaren then completed postgraduate studies at University College London.

Anne McLaren Google Doodle
Scientist Anne McLaren is celebrated in today's Google Doodle on what would have been her 94th birthday. Google Doodle

Then, in the 1950s, McLaren worked with mice to further understand the biology of mammalian development—the Google Doodle says, "While the subjects of her research were tiny, the implications of their study proved massive."

McLaren and her colleague John Biggers were able to demonstrate the possibility of creating healthy embryos outside of the mother's womb by successfully growing mouse embryos in vitro. These findings were published in 1958 and paved the way for the development of in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology.

IVF was first used with humans twenty years after the findings were published when the first "IVF baby" Louise Brown was born, though the ethics surrounding the technology were considered controversial.

McLaren served as the only research scientist on the Warnock Committee, which was established in 1982 to consider the recent developments in embryology and to consider what policies and safeguards should be in place. She was also a member of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies and advocated for regulated research on early mammalian and human embryos.

McLaren's role in the committee was essential in the enactment of the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, which limited in-vitro culture of human embryos to 14-days post embryo creation.

McLaren was appointed Foreign Secretary, and later vice-president of The Royal Society, the world's oldest scientific institution, in 1991. This made her the first woman to ever hold office in the institution's 330-year-history.

The scientist hoped to spark a love of science in children and society generally, and in 1994, an institution dedicated to the promotion of science, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, (now known as the British Science Association) elected her as its president.

Through this organization, McLaren engaged people across Britain on science, engineering, and technology and aimed to make the subjects more accessible.
Google Doodle says: "Happy birthday, Anne McLaren. Thank you for all your incredible work and for inspiring many new generations to come because of it!"