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Auerbach, Charlotte

research daughter mutations geneticist

[ ow erbakh] (1899–1994) German–British geneticist: discoverer of chemical mutagenesis.

Lotte Auerbach, born in Germany and the daughter and grand-daughter of scientists, herself studied science at four German universities and then taught in schools in Berlin until, in 1933, all Jewish teachers were dismissed. She escaped to Edinburgh, followed by her mother, worked for a PhD and obtained a lowly job at the Institute of Animal Genetics there, becoming a lecturer in 1947.

Discussions with the geneticist led her to study mutation in animal cells (a mutation is a change, spontaneous or induced, in a gene or a chromosome; such a change in the hereditary material leads to an abrupt alteration in the characteristics of an organism). Müller had shown that X-rays produced mutations: Lotte Auerbach first showed that mustard gas ([CH2 CH2 Cl] 2S, used in the First World War) did so in the fruit fly, Drosophila . She became an authority on such chemical mutations, which have been of great value in research and in cancer treatment, and she directed the Medical Research Council Mutagenesis Research Unit ‘for as long as she could conceal her age from her employers’, not retiring until 1969. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1957.

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